Who invented the sleeper sofa?

By: Laurie L. Dove

History of the Sleeper Sofa

The late 1800s represented a boom in sleep innovations. Not long after Goode patented the "sleeper desk," an African-American inventor named Leonard C. Bailey received a patent for a folding bed. The 1899 patent diagram depicted a metal bed frame and mattress that folded in the center. Each lengthwise end of the bed raised to meet in the middle, much like a single piece of bread folded into a sandwich. The invention came to the attention of the U.S. Army Medical Board and the mass-produced design found particular favor with soldiers and campers [source: Our Weekly].

By 1908, William Murphy had invented the pivot bed. His one-room San Francisco apartment didn't leave much room for entertaining guests, so Murphy devised a hinging mechanism attached to the head of the bed that would flip it into a wall cavity when not in use. As of 2013, Murphy Bed Co. still manufactured Murphy beds [source: Soniak].


The grandfather of modern sleeper sofas was the product of the American dream. Bernard Castro was an Italian who immigrated to the U.S. in 1919. After spending much of his spare time in New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art studying the furniture on display, Castro began building his own brand of sleeper sofas in 1931. His designs were unique because the couches didn't look as if they contained a pullout mattress and frame. They retained the aesthetic appeal of high-end furniture [source: Caceres].

The family sold the company in 1993 after Castro's death, but daughter Bernadette regained ownership in 2008 and focused on marketing a convertible ottoman [source: Castro Convertibles, Medina].

Although the folding mechanisms continue to be tweaked by modern manufacturers, today's sleeper sofas aren't so different from those used mid-century -- with the exception of increasingly comfortable mattresses. Many of the extras once available only on traditional mattresses are now drawing consumers to sleeper sofas, including memory foam [source: Solomon].

Author's Note

Sofa sleepers have come a long way, especially when it comes to ease of extension. I remember staying with family friends as a child, and being the "lucky" one to sleep on the pullout sofa. The sofa sleeper prep I witnessed that night went something like this: Move the coffee table. Remove cushions and pillows from sofa. Pull on bed frame recessed in sofa. Grasp lower back in pain. Enlist help. Pull on recessed bed again. Wrestle with folding mechanism. Successfully extend sofa bed.

Thankfully, that's not really the case anymore. My last encounter with a sofa sleeper was a breeze -- acquiescing hinges, comfy mattress -- and no complaints.

Related Articles


  • Caceres, Melissa. "Iconic South Florida Furniture Company Castro Convertibles Returns." Sun-Sentinel. July 6, 2012. (Feb. 13, 2012)
  • California State Polytechnic University. "Sarah E. Goode." (Feb. 10, 2013)
  • Castro Convertibles. "Castro Convertibles: Back and Better Than Ever." (Feb. 10, 2013)
  • Design Boom. "Role of the Chaise-Longue (Daybed) in Different Cultures." (Feb. 10, 2013)
  • George Washington Wired. "Settee Bedstead." (Feb. 10, 2013)
  • Medina, Carlos. "Castro Unfolds the Family Business." Ocala. July 12, 2012. (Feb. 10, 2013)
  • Our Weekly. "Black History Fact of the Week." July 21, 2010. (Feb. 13, 2013)
  • Solomon, Barbara. "The New Breed of Sleeper Sofas." Consumers Digest. November 2012. (Feb. 10, 2013)
  • Soniak, Matt. "Who Was Murphy and Why is There a Bed Named After Him?" Mental Floss. (Feb. 10, 2013)
  • Thomas Jefferson Foundation. "Alcove Beds." (Feb. 10, 2013)