CLOSE
Original image

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

Original image

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.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
What is Duck Sauce?
Original image
A plate of Chinese takeout with egg rolls and duck sauce
iStock

We know that our favorite Chinese takeout is not really authentically Chinese, but more of an Americanized series of menu options very loosely derived from overseas inspiration. (Chinese citizens probably wouldn’t recognize chop suey or orange-glazed chicken, and fortune cookies are of Japanese origin.) It would also be unusual for "real" Chinese meals to be accompanied by a generous amount of sauce packets.

Here in the U.S., these condiments are a staple of Chinese takeout. But one in particular—“duck sauce”—doesn’t really offer a lot of information about itself. What exactly is it that we’re pouring over our egg rolls?

Smithsonian.com conducted a sauce-related investigation and made an interesting discovery, particularly if you’re not prone to sampling Chinese takeout when traveling cross-country. On the East Coast, duck sauce is similar to sweet-and-sour sauce, only fruitier; in New England, it’s brown, chunky, and served on tables; and on the West Coast, it’s almost unheard of.

While the name can describe different sauces, associating it with duck probably stems from the fact that the popular Chinese dish Peking duck is typically served with a soybean-based sauce. When dishes began to be imported to the States, the Americanization of the food involved creating a sweeter alternative using apricots that was dubbed duck sauce. (In New England, using applesauce and molasses was more common.)

But why isn’t it easily found on the West Coast? Many sauce companies are based in New York and were in operation after Chinese food had already gained a foothold in California. Attempts to expand didn’t go well, and so Chinese food aficionados will experience slightly different tastes depending on their geography. But regardless of where they are, or whether they're using the condiment as a dipping sauce for their egg rolls or a dressing for their duck, diners can rest assured that no ducks were harmed in the making of their duck sauce.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Original image
arrow
Big Questions
Can You Really Go Blind Staring at a Solar Eclipse?
Original image

A total solar eclipse will cut a path of totality across the United States on August 21, and eclipse mania is gripping the country. Should the wide-eyed and unprotected hazard a peek at this rare phenomenon?

NASA doesn't advise it. The truth is, a quick glance at a solar eclipse won't leave you blind. But you're not doing your peepers any favors. As NASA explains, even when 99 percent of the sun's surface is covered, the 1 percent that sneaks out around the edges is enough to damage the rod and cone cells in your retinas. As this light and radiation flood into the eye, the retina becomes trapped in a sort of solar cooker that scorches its tissue. And because your retinas don't have any pain receptors, your eyes have no way of warning you to stop.

The good news for astronomy enthusiasts is that there are ways to safely view a solar eclipse. A pair of NASA-approved eclipse glasses will block the retina-frying rays, but sunglasses or any other kind of smoked lenses cannot. (The editors at MrEclipse.com, an eclipse watchers' fan site, put shades in the "eye suicide" category.) NASA also suggests watching the eclipse indirectly through a pinhole projector, or through binoculars or a telescope fitted with special solar filters.

While it's safe to take a quick, unfiltered peek at the sun in the brief totality of a total solar eclipse, doing so during the partial phases—when the Moon is not completely covering the Sun—is much riskier.

WOULDN'T IT BE EASIER TO JUST TELL YOUR KIDS THEY WILL GO BLIND?

NASA's website tackled this question. Their short answer: that could ruin their lives.

"A student who heeds warnings from teachers and other authorities not to view the eclipse because of the danger to vision, and learns later that other students did see it safely, may feel cheated out of the experience. Having now learned that the authority figure was wrong on one occasion, how is this student going to react when other health-related advice about drugs, alcohol, AIDS, or smoking is given[?]"

This story was originally published in 2012.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios