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Who Was Murphy and Why Is There a Bed Named After Him?

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Image credit: Valet Custom Cabinets & Closets

The Murphy Bed, also known as a wall bed, fold down bed or pull down bed, is a bed that’s hinged at one end so it can be folded up and stored vertically against a wall or in a closet. It’s useful in situations where floor space is at a premium, like studio apartments, dorm rooms, mobile homes and cruise ship cabins.

The bed is named, no surprise, after a guy named Murphy—William L. Murphy.

These kinds of beds had already been around in other forms for a while. Thomas Jefferson had his beds in Monticello hanging on ropes and hooks in the alcoves of the bedrooms, and Leonard Bailey received the first patent for a folding bed in 1899. Murphy’s innovation was at the bed’s point of folding. Using an old closet doorjamb and some door hinges, he built a pivot that allowed the bed to attach to a wall and fold up against it for easy storage.

The son of a gold-seeking 49er, Murphy worked a few different jobs around California before he came up with his invention. He broke in horses for a while, drove a stagecoach, and even served as sheriff of a little pioneer town. At the turn of the 20th century, he made his way to San Francisco and rented a tiny one-room apartment on Bush Street, which inspired his leap into the bed business.

Know When to Fold 'Em

The Murphy Bed Company says that Murphy’s standard bed took up most of the apartment’s floor space, which made having company a little difficult. Murphy wanted to entertain his friends at his home, so he began toying around with the folding bed idea.

As Gene Kolakowski, an executive at the company, told CBS News, though, there’s an alternate origin story where Murphy’s incentive was much greater. The version that Murphy’s descendants like to tell is that he designed the folding bed because he wanted to have a certain young lady over to his place, but the moral standards of the time deemed it inappropriate to have a woman in his bedroom. Desperate for some quality courting time with the woman, Murphy was inspired to find a way to instantly turn his bedroom into a more innocent living room.

Murphy eventually married that same girl and used a loan from her father to patent the “Murphy In-A-Dor Bed” and start his own company to make them. That same company continues to make them today, almost 100 years later. The beds aren’t as popular as they once were, though. Demand peaked in the early 1900s as manufacturing became the focus of the American economy and people flocked to jobs in urban areas. Disaster in the bed’s hometown caused a spike in sales, too.

After the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906, the beds were placed in many new and rebuilt buildings to maximize space (according to Gladys Hansen, a curator at the Museum of the City of San Francisco, some of the beds already installed in the city folded up violently during the quake, injuring their occupants and killing at least one).

The Great Depression, the rationing of steel and other raw materials during WWII, and the post-war suburban housing boom all cut into the folding bed business, but the market is still big enough to support Murphy’s original company, plus a few competitors. In 1989 the courts ruled that the “Murphy bed” was no longer entitled to trademark protection because the public had come to see it as a generic term for beds that fold into walls, whether they were Murphy’s design or not.

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Words
Why Is 'Colonel' Spelled That Way?
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English spelling is bizarre. We know that. From the moment we learn about silent “e” in school, our innocent expectations that sound and spelling should neatly match up begin to fade away, and soon we accept that “eight” rhymes with “ate,” “of” rhymes with “love,” and “to” sounds like “too” sounds like “two.” If we do sometimes briefly pause to wonder at these eccentricities, we quickly resign ourselves to the fact that there must be reasons—stuff about history and etymology and sound changing over time. Whatever. English. LOL. Right? It is what it is.

But sometimes English takes it a step too far, does something so brazen and shameless we can’t just let it slide. That’s when we have to throw our shoulders back, put our hands on our hips and ask, point blank, what is the deal with the word “colonel”?

“Colonel” is pronounced just like “kernel.” How did this happen? From borrowing the same word from two different places. In the 1500s, English borrowed a bunch of military vocabulary from French, words like cavalerie, infanterie, citadelle, canon, and also, coronel. The French had borrowed them from the Italians, then the reigning experts in the art of war, but in doing so, had changed colonello to coronel.

Why did they do that? A common process called dissimilation—when two instances of the same sound occur close to each other in a word, people tend to change one of the instances to something else. Here, the first “l” was changed to “r.” The opposite process happened with the Latin word peregrinus (pilgrim), when the first “r” was changed to an “l” (now it’s peregrino in Spanish and Pellegrino in Italian. English inherited the “l” version in pilgrim.)

After the dissimilated French coronel made its way into English, late 16th century scholars started producing English translations of Italian military treatises. Under the influence of the originals, people started spelling it “colonel.” By the middle of the 17th century, the spelling had standardized to the “l” version, but the “r” pronunciation was still popular (it later lost a syllable, turning kor-o-nel to ker-nel). Both pronunciations were in play for a while, and adding to the confusion was the mistaken idea that “coronel” was etymologically related to “crown”—a colonel was sometimes translated as “crowner” in English. In fact, the root is colonna, Italian for column.

Meanwhile, French switched back to “colonel,” in both spelling and pronunciation. English throws its shoulders back, puts its hands on its hips and asks, how boring is that?

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Love Scratching Furniture?
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Allergy suffering aside, cat ownership has proven health benefits. A feline friend can aid in the grieving process, reduce anxiety, and offer companionship.

The con in the cat column? They have no reservations about turning your furniture into shredded pleather. No matter how expensive your living room set, these furry troublemakers will treat it with the respect accorded to a college futon. Do cats do this out of some kind of spite? Are they conspiring with Raymour & Flanigan to get you to keep updating home decor?

Neither. According to cat behaviorists, cats gravitate toward scratching furniture mostly because that love seat is in a really conspicuous area [PDF]. As a result, cats want to send a message to any other animal that may happen by: namely, that this plush seating belongs to the cat who marked it. Scratching provides both visual evidence (claw marks) as well as a scent marker. Cat paws have scent glands that can leave smells that are detectable to other cats and animals.

But it’s not just territorial: Cats also scratch to remove sloughed-off nail tips, allowing fresh nail growth to occur. And they can work out their knotted back muscles—cramped from sleeping 16 hours a day, no doubt—by kneading the soft foam of a sectional.

If you want to dissuade your cat from such behavior, purchasing a scratching post is a good start. Make sure it’s non-carpeted—their nails can get caught on the fibers—and tall enough to allow for a good stretch. Most importantly, put it near furniture so cats can mark their hangout in high-traffic areas. A good post might be a little more expensive, but will likely result in fewer trips to Ethan Allen.

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