Monday, January 31, 2005

Apple #31: Marshmallows

Lately I've been enjoying a few marshmallows in my mug of hot chocolate. And I wondered, what are marshmallows, anyway? I'm almost afraid to find out.

  • Marshmallows today are made of corn syrup, sugar, gelatin, gum arabic, and flavoring. Gum arabic is a compound obtained from trees in India. It's essentially several sugars, and it's used as a flavor stabilizer. So, basically, marshmallows are made of sugar, goo, and more sugar.
  • According to Kraft, which makes the most popular marshmallows in the grocery store, Egyptian pharaohs were the first ones to eat the earliest form of marshmallows. These were made when people discovered that if they squeezed the root of the mallow plant (an herb), a sweet, sticky sap was released. They mixed this with honey and made candy.
  • In the 19th century, doctors mixed mallow root with egg whites and sugar, then cooked and whipped it into a meringue that hardened. This was given to children as medicinal candy, to soothe their throats (early cough drops). The mallow root supposedly had beneficial properties.
  • Mallow root is still sold today to treat sore throats, diarrhea, constipation, and bronchial inflammation.

Mallow root.
(Photo from

Health food stores typically sell mallow root chopped up like this.
(Photo from More Than Alive)

  • In France, in the mid-1800s, inventors whipped and molded the mallow root sap to make candy, and pretty soon, people couldn't get enough of it.
  • To increase production, marshmallow makers decided to mold the marshmallows. So that you could eat what was put in the molds, the molds were made of modified corn starch. Thus the marshmallows took on corn starch. Then, to make sure they'd stay fresh, the manufacturers added gelatin. Today's marshmallows, Kraft is happy to report, contain no mallow root at all.
  • Just Born, the company that makes the marshmallows treats called Peeps, produces over 1 billion Peeps each year. More than 700 million of them are eaten in the US in a year.
  • In 1953, it took 27 hours to make one Peep. Today, it takes 6 minutes.
  • If you put a Peep in the microwave and zap it for a little while, it will get huge. Every once in a while, my mother, who loves marshmallow candy, will put a Peep in there and blow it up.
  • Or if you're into more Peep-friendly activities, you could always dress up as a Peep:

A Peeps costume for children, available for $29.99

Sources's section on inventors, history of marshmallows
Kraft's pages on Jet-Puffed marshmallows (go to About Jet-Puff, then choose History or Nutritional Information)
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Midwestern Turfgrass Weed Identification and Control, Common mallow lookalikes photos
Camden-Grey Essential Oils, mallow root
Just Born About Peeps Fun Facts. Check out the Factory Tour, too.
Martin Chaplin, Professor of Applied Science, London South Bank University, page on gum arabic

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Apple #30: The Replacements


By request, here's info on The Replacements, a band from the 1980's. They were probably one of the first "indie" bands to reach a fairly wide audience.

Photo by Greg Helgeson

  • They were:
    • Paul Westerberg, vocals, guitar, primary song-writer. Still recording and performing on his own. I saw him in the late 90's. He wore baggy pants and red & white shiny shoes and a red shirt, and I was close enough to the stage to see the sweat flying off his face.
    • Bob Stinson, guitar, RIP. Died in 1995 of a drug overdose.
    • Slim Dunlap, guitar. Replacement for Bob Stinson.
    • Tommy Stinson, Bob's brother, bass. Later formed his own band, Perfect Tommy.
    • Chris Mars, drums.
  • Known for getting fabulously drunk before, during, and after their shows. As one writer put it: "Frequently, the band was barely able to stand up, let alone play, and when they did play, they often didn't finish their songs."
  • They were also incredibly young. When their first album was released, Tommy Stinson, the youngest, was 14.
  • Referred to by fans as "The Mats," short for "The Placemats," itself a pun on the band's name.
  • Formed in 1979 in Minneapolis as a garage punk band.
  • Signed to a local label in 1981 and released a few albums to increasing acclaim.
  • In 1984, released Let It Be, which revealed the depth of Westerberg's song-writing talent and swelled the ranks of the band's underground following. Soon after, they signed a contract with Sire records in 1985.
  • The release of their next album was anticipated to be the work that would launch them into mainstream fame and blow the lid off. When that album was released later in 1985, it carried the purposefully unprepossessing title, Tim.
  • The band continued its self-deprecating style with its video for "Bastards of Young" which featured only a stereo system playing the song. This tactic "thereby cut themselves off from the mass exposure MTV could have granted them." One could argue, not everyone got the joke.
  • Appeared on Saturday Night Live roaring drunk, and Westerberg said the F word on air, which did nothing to endear them to promoters.
  • Following the tour for Tim, Bob Stinson was fired for unreliability due to his drug and alcohol addictions.
  • Three years, two mildly successful albums, and a new guitarist later, the band said they had kicked their habits and wanted to "play the promotional game." The next album featured "I'll Be You," which scored high on both rock and pop charts. However, the rest of the album never really took off.
  • Westerberg next wanted to record a solo album, but Sire records refused. He then released All Shook Down, which was the solo album he would have liked to have made, but under The Replacements' name. The drummer left the band shortly thereafter, and by 1991, The Replacements had disbanded.

("The Replacements" is also the name of a mediocre movie about football starring Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman.)

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide, reproduced on MTV's
Bio of The Replacements
Rolling Stone,
The Replacements Bio
The Replacements
Stephanie Zacharek, "
True Romance: the bittersweet legacy of The Replacements," The Boston Phoenix archive, November 6-13, 1997
Westerberg, Mould, but No 'Mats at Mueller Benefit," Billboard, September 23, 2004

Monday, January 24, 2005

Apple #29: Idaho


As requested, here are some facts about Idaho:
  • Idaho was part of the Louisiana Purchase, acquired by the United States from France, for a mere $15 million in 1803.
  • Before Idaho became a state in 1890, its chief products were first fur trading, then gold, then silver. Finally, Idaho became the United States' primary producer of potatoes.
  • "Idaho" was the name of a steamship that traveled the Columbia River (the Columbia, in Washington, joins up with the Snake River, which forms part of the border of Idaho and Washington). Gold mines dug around the Clearwater River in Idaho began to be called the Idaho mines, and the name stuck.
  • Idaho is the Gem State, and its state bird is the Mountain Bluebird.
  • The state tree is the Western White Pine, which is appropriate since Idaho has the largest remaining stand of this kind of timber.
  • There's also a state flower and a state fish and a state horse and a state fossil and yes, even a state folk dance, but you can look those up yourself.
  • The state vegetable is, of course, the potato.
  • In 2002, Idaho accounted for about 58% of all the potatoes produced in the US. There are 8 states that are the primary growers, and Idaho is at the top of the list. The US as a whole grew 46 billion pounds of potatoes in 2002, and of that total, Idaho grew nearly 28 billion pounds that same year.
  • The current population of Idaho is about 1.3 million. Idaho is about 82,000 square miles, which means that there are an average of 15.6 persons per square mile. By comparison, Illinois has 223.4 persons per square mile, and Massachusetts has 809.8.
  • The northern panhandle and center of the state is nearly all mountains and wilderness. The southern third of the state is flatter, and contains most of the population. Smack in the middle of the state is a place called the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area.

Idaho history
US Census Quick Facts on
Idaho and other states
State Symbols
USDA Economic Research Service,
Potato Statistics, files tab01us.xls and tab12id.xls
Idaho Interactive Map and the map of Idaho from my Rand McNally Road Atlas

Friday, January 21, 2005

Apple #28: Toboggans


I went to my home town recently, and a snowy hill I passed reminded me that I once sled down it on a toboggan when I was a kid with about five other kids, and we almost wound up in the lake at the bottom of the hill. I thought about that word toboggan and then I wondered where they came from.

  • Toboggans were pulled by hand or by teams of dogs, and were used to haul cargo across frozen, snow-covered ground. They were also used to pull children too young to walk far in cold weather.
  • The word is attributed to the Micmac tribe, some of whom still live in northeast Canada. They made a lot of things out of birch bark, and they hunted big animals like elk, moose, bear, and caribou.
  • Numerous other northern tribes are known to have used toboggans, including the Eskimos, or Inuit. In the Innu language, the word for "automobile" is utapan, which also means "toboggan."
  • Since toboggans have to glide over frozen, uneven ground, they must be flexible. Metal will snap if bent or jarred, and plastics can also get distorted and may be weakened by UV light. For its flexibility even in cold temperatures, wood remains the preferred material for toboggans.
  • Steering a toboggan is difficult, since it was never originally intended to be ridden, but hauled. Shifting one's weight or trailing one's feet are the only ways to steer or stop a toboggan.
  • In the sport of tobogganing, special iced chutes are constructed so that steering is eliminated. The toboggan, therefore, is the forerunner of the bobsled and the luge. Also, the first snowmobile was a motorized toboggan.

Only three more days to submit your requests!

Northern Toboggan & Sled's
History page
Compact Oxford English Dictionary,
toboggan entry
Minnesota State University EMuseum, North American Cultures,
Utapanasku - the
Innu toboggan
Columbia Encyclopedia, entry on

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Apple #27: Benny Hill


As requested, here's some info on the British comedian who often ran around very fast on his show, performed slapstick, and leered after women.
  • Born in January 1924, in Southampton, England
  • Real name: Alfred Hawthorne Hill. He adopted the name Benny Hill in homage to his favorite comedian, Jack Benny.
  • Held jobs as a milk cart driver and a salesman at Woolworth's before becoming a comedian
  • Performed in live variety acts on stage and on the radio for several years. In 1949, he began writing sketch comedy.
  • In 1955, at the age of 31, he started his own TV show with the BBC. This made him one of the frontrunners of television comedy in England. The show ran for more than 30 years and was aired in over 100 countries.
  • In 1979, the show was aired in the US. While some thought that British humor wouldn't translate to American tastes, "The Benny Hill Show" became massively popular with its bawdy jokes that were considered risque compared to other shows on American television.
  • The signature music for his show was the song "Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)," parodying his early job as a milkman
  • He also appeared as the toymaker in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" with Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews
  • In the 1980's, as his popularity soared in America, his show was on the decline in Britain. While he cranked up the "slap and tickle" humor, exactly these types of jokes were found increasingly offensive as more people embraced feminism. In 1989, his show was canceled due to public pressure.
  • He never married, though he proposed to two women.
  • He never owned a car or a house. He remarked that his favorite possessions were his TV and his VCR.
  • In 1992, he died of a heart attack at the age of 68. Some reports say he was in the hospital; others say he was alone in his apartment watching TV. He was worth an estimated 140 million pounds (about $260 million).

Museum of Broadcast Communications, Benny Hill
BBC's Guide to Comedy, Benny Hill
BBC America, The Benny Hill Show
The Benny Hill Page Biography
The Benny Hill Songbook

Monday, January 17, 2005

Apple #26: Grommets & Myrrh

Since I've been away from this thing for a few days, I thought I'd do two entries today. And, in honor of my pledge to take requests, both are from the request lines.

  • A grommet is a metal ring used for lining a small hole through which cords or lines will be run. The ring may also be made of plastic or even rubber.
  • Grommets are the metal rings around the openings in your shoes, through which the laces pass. They are also used in other laced clothing, such as corsets or laced vests, and in curtains.
  • Grommets are also used in electronics, to protect the holes where wires or tubing pass into and out of wiring boxes without grounding.
  • In nautical terms, a grommet is a loop of rope that secures a sail to its stay.
  • It is also used around the holes in mailbags.
  • In medicine, it is a tube surgically implanted in the eardrum, used to drain fluid from the middle ear and thus alleviate a condition known as "glue ear."
  • In military weaponry, it is a ring of rope used as a wad to hold a cannon ball in place, presumably in a pile of other cannon balls.
  • In construction, it is a ring of fiber used as a seal or gasket, or it may also be a washer which seals joints between lengths of pipe.
  • The term probably comes from a French word, gromette, which was the chain that joined the ends of a bit for a horse's mouth. This word, in turn, comes from another Old French word that means "to curb."
Looks like grommet is one of those words like doo-hickey that people use to describe a thingamabob that can be used for just about anything. In this case, the thingamabob is a little ring that protects the material where a hole is made.


Myrrh is best known as one of the three gifts the Magi brought to the baby Jesus. But what is it, exactly?
  • Myrrh is a gum-resin, used as a perfume and an unguent, burned as incense in temples and used in embalming.
  • True myrrh comes from the bark of a shrub that grows in Africa and Arabia.
  • In resin form, it occurs in irregularly shaped pieces, from 3/4 of an inch to 3 inches or so. It has a reddish-brown color and contains some white streaks. It is a mixture of resin, gum, and the essential oil, myrrhol, which gives it its distinctive aroma.
  • Myrrh has been in use for at least 3700 years, well before the Bible. It has also been used for:
    • milching cows to improve quality and increase quantity of milk
    • when mixed with lime, giving a gloss to walls
    • when shaken with water to form a lather, for washing hair and for whitening shields
    • when ingested, for expelling the guinea-worm
    • it used to be used for treating reproductive disorders, though this is an ill-founded belief and in fact is harmful in pregnant women.
    • more recently, it has been found to be beneficial, when mixed with water, in protecting the stomach against damage caused by NSAIDs such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
  • It is also currently available as an herb, more commonly referred to as chervil or cicely or in a blend known as fine herbs. It is used fresh on salads and has a sweet, mild anise flavor. When dried, it loses its flavor. It can be used as a substitute for sugar in some dishes.
OneLook's entry on grommet and subsequent reference links
1911 Encyclopedia Britannica entry on myrrh
Webster's revised, unabridged 1913 dictionary, myrrh
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center's About Herbs, Botanicals & Other Products, myrrh
Hormel Glossary of Kitchen and Food Terms, myrrh
My's glossary terms, myrrh

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Apple #25: Request Lines Are Now Closed


Sorry, folks, but the time for submitting requests has expired. I'll take requests again at some point in the future, never fear, so stay tuned. And I also have some requests to fill yet, so keep an eye out for your topic to appear in the subject line.

Thanks to everybody who submitted suggestions. You've helped expand this thing beyond the confines of my own head.

Finally, I'm going to re-set this so that registration is once again required if you'd like to leave a comment. It's always nice to see input from people because it tells me that somebody is actually reading this.

Thanks again to everybody who's participated.

--the apple lady

Apple #24: Jupiter

Jupiter is my favorite planet. I like it because of the spot, which is a storm, and because it's lots of different colors. And, it turns out, all kinds of crazy stuff goes on there.

(Photo of Jupiter from Zabawiki)

  • Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun.
  • It is the largest planet in our solar system. It has more than twice the mass of all the other planets combined. If Jupiter were hollow, more than 1,000 Earths would fit inside it.
  • Galileo's discovery in 1610 of four of Jupiter's moons and the fact that they rotated around Jupiter was the first time anybody realized that things in the heavens rotated around things other than the Earth.
  • We now know of 63 moons that orbit around Jupiter.
  • Jupiter is 90% hydrogen and 10% helium, with traces of methane, water, ammonia, and "rock." This composition is considered to be very close to that of the nebula from which our solar system was formed.
  • The presence of "rock" is really only a guess. Scientists think that Jupiter probably has a rocky core, with a mass of about 10 to 15 times that of Earth.
  • Around this core is liquid metallic hydrogen, which can exist only at pressures greater than 4 million bars.
  • Winds whip around Jupiter at more than 400 mph, driven mostly by the planet's internal heat. This heat is generated by the planet's slow gravitational compression.
  • The colors which seem to be on the planet are actually clouds, made mostly of ammonia and ice. The exact reason for the colors is uncertain. Some say they're from trace elements in the atmosphere, maybe sulfur or phosphorous. In some images, the colors are coded to correspond with altitudes of the clouds, where blue is the lowest and red is the highest.
  • The Great Red Spot (GRS) is a 12,000 km by 25,000 km oval, large enough to hold two Earths.
  • The Spot is actually a hurricane-like storm of gases, which has existed for at least as long as people have been looking at it, or over 400 years. Nobody seems to know much more about it than that. See a movie of the red spot in action.
  • Jupiter also has rings, like Saturn, though they are much smaller and fainter. They were discovered by Voyager I in 1979. They are actually small dust particles.
  • Jupiter also has "auroral emissions" or magnetic events like Earth's northern lights.
This is from the Hubble Space Telescope, in 2004:

Update: In July 2009, the telescope Hubble has taken pictures of a new large spot on Jupiter, a black one. It's estimated to be 6,000 miles wide, or about twice the size of Europe. This spot was probably caused, astronomers believe, by an impact from a comet or an asteroid.

To-scale image of the new black spot on Jupiter, as taken by Hubble.
(Photo from the Hubblesite)

While everyone has been talking about how great Hubble is for the pictures it's taken, the new black spot was first noticed by an amateur astronomer named Anthony Wesley from Australia.

The Nine Planets
Views of the Solar System,
Jupiter page
Hubble Space Telescope's
A little bit more detail about the
Great Red Spot, from Astronomy 161, as taught by the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Tennessee
News about the black spot:
"Hubble pictures Jupiter's 'scar'," BBC News, July 24, 2009
"See Jupiter's Great Black Spot," MSNBC News, July 24, 2009

Monday, January 10, 2005

Apple #23: Seeing Eye Dogs

SEEING EYE DOGS, or Guide Dogs for the Blind

I recently helped a blind man find some things in a store. He had a dog with him, but the man was looking for things on the shelf, and of course the dog was no help with that. Then when the blind man was ready to leave the store, he told the dog to lead him out, but the store was busy and the dog seemed to be overwhelmed by all the people and the stuff in the store, and the dog wasn't really leading anywhere, just sort of walking dazed. So I walked them both to the door.
  • The first systematic effort to train dogs to help blind people was in 1780, in a Paris hospital for the blind. Then, during the First World War, a German doctor left his dog alone with a blind man when he was urgently called away. When he returned, he got the distinct impression that his dog was looking after the blind man. So he began what became a series of schools throughout Germany that trained dogs to help men blinded in the War.
  • Generally, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and sometimes mixed breeds are trained to be guide dogs. These breeds are known for their stable temperament, their sociability with people, and their ability to respond to commands.
  • Depending on the institute responsible for training the dogs, a dog may be bred especially to become a guide dog. As puppies, they are trained to be obedient and sociable. Then before they are 2, they attend a four-month course of specialized guide-dog training. After the dog successfully completes this training, the dog is then matched with a blind person, and the two work together with a sighted person for about 3 weeks to get used to each other.
  • Dogs are color-blind and have no idea when traffic lights change. Their owners learn to listen for changes in traffic patterns to know when it's safe to cross the street. Then they will tell the dog, "Forward," and the dog will begin walking across the street.
  • Only dogs trained by The Seeing Eye Inc., in Morristown, New Jersey, are supposed to be called "seeing eye dogs." Otherwise, they're called guide dogs or leader dogs.
  • Volunteers can help by going to guide dog schools to feed or walk or pet the puppies and get them used to new people. Some schools also allow volunteers to raise puppies that will eventually be trained to become guide dogs.
  • People who want to train guide dogs for a living undergo a three-year apprenticeship before receiving their license.
  • Some schools charge as little as $150 for a dog. Some schools provide the dogs free of charge.
Here are some recommendations for what to do when you meet someone who is blind and how to treat his or her guide dog. Some of the things I did right, some of the things I didn't do too well.

Also, when I was maybe 14, I read this book, Light a Single Candle, about a girl who goes blind because of glaucoma and she has to go to blind school, which is awful, and then she gets a guide dog. I know it's a young adult book, but it was written by a woman who is herself blind, and the descriptions of what it's like to be blind make it seem like it's not that foreign an experience, and the whole process of how she gets a guide dog I found really interesting.

The Seeing Eye Inc.'s FAQs
Southeastern Guide Dogs Inc Obtaining a Guide Dog FAQs
International Guide Dog Federation History
Guide Dogs for the Blind Training

Friday, January 7, 2005

Apple #22: Pimiento

I finished a jar of green olives the other day. I've looked up the word pimiento before but I couldn't remember what it is. So here's what it is:

  • A sweet red pepper, heart-shaped, somewhat small. It's sweeter than the typical red bell pepper available in grocery stores everywhere.
  • Pimiento is the Spanish word for "pepper." The Spanish word originates with the Latin pimiento, which means "pigment or spice."
  • Sometimes the word is spelled pimento
  • It's possible that the reason pimientos are stuffed into olives is that all olives, no matter how ripe, "have a vile, intensely bitter taste." (What is it with people wanting to eat nasty-tasting things, in spite of their nastiness?) The pimiento may help to counteract the olive's bitterness. That and all the soaking in alkaline and brine and the fermenting you have to do to an olive to get rid of the bitter substance inherent in it.
  • When olives are processed, a punching machine pushes a metal pin into the olive from one end and forces the pit out the other. If you look at the bottom of the olive, you'll see an x where the punch entered. The larger hole is where the pit came out.
  • Next, the pimiento, cut into strips, is fed into a machine in rolls. This machine inserts the pimiento into the hole where the pit was.
  • Large quantities of pimiento are also used to make paprika.

The pimiento, not yet in an olive:


Ask Yahoo What is a pimento and why is it in my olive?
Hormel's Glossary of Kitchen and Food Terms, Pimiento entry
Compact Oxford English Dictionary, pimiento entry
Australian Consumer's Choice Association, Olives: You may not have wanted to know this
UCLA Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library, Spices Exotic Flavors & Medicines

Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Apple #21: Ebony & Persimmons

What the heck is ebony, anyway?
  • Ebony is wood, specifically, a fine-grained, hard timber from the persimmon tree
  • There are three kinds of ebonies: one which is uniformly black that grows in Africa, a second which is black with lighter streaks and grows on the island of Celebes, and a third which is a much lighter pale cream color that grows in North America and Africa.

Cross-section of ebony that grew in the Sahara. Ebony wood sells for $50 per square foot.
(Photo from Safari Gifts)

  • Because of its hardness and its color, it is used in furniture and is often carved in great detail. In the 16th century, exquisitely carved cabinets made of ebony were all the rage.
  • Ebony is often used for piano keys, but so is African Blackwood, which has a translucent reflective quality.
  • Many varieties of ebony are now endangered.
  • Ebony is also the name of a magazine published by a cosmetics company and marketed primarily to African Americans.
  • Ebony is also the name of a clarinet concerto by Woody Herman.

Here's a picture of a pretty fantastic ebony and ivory cabinet from 17th century Germany, valued at roughly $120,000 to $200,000.

This one, from Italy also in the 17th Century, was valued at about $330,000 to $400,000.

(You've got that Stevie Wonder song in your head now, don't you? Yeah, so do I.)

Now, what the heck is a persimmon?

  • The fruit of the persimmon tree, the persimmon, is often edible.
  • The fruit is a light yellow-orange to a dark orange-red and is usually acorn-shaped
  • One variety of persimmon is astringent (bitter) and contains tannic acid. This variety becomes soft and pulpy when ripe.
  • Another variety of persimmon is referred to as non-astringent, though it is only less bitter than the first. This remains hard and crunchy when ripe.
  • Persimmon trees actually grow all over the world, including in Japan, China, Korea, and the Mediterranean, as well as in Africa and the southern US.

These are persimmons from Uncle Paul's Produce in Oregon:

Wikipedia's entry on Ebony
Wikipedia's entry on the Persimmon
Columbia Enclyclopedia's entry on Ebony
Sofresh New Zealand, Persimmons in New Zealand

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Apple #20: Mattresses


The other day, I was lying in bed for a while after I woke up, sort of patting the mattress. It occurred to me that what I was lying on was something of a miraculous invention. Here are some of the substances that mattresses have been made of or stuffed with in the past:

  • Dirt and a wooden prop for the head
  • Ebony and gold
  • Rice hulls
  • Hay
  • Wool
  • Feathers
  • Water in goatskins or, more recently, vinyl
  • Pine straw
  • Coconut fiber
  • Horse hair
  • Pea shucks in ticking (plain rough cloth), with velvet & brocade on the outside
  • Straw or cotton in ticking on rope lattice
  • Cornhusks
  • Cotton on iron
  • Rubber and foam
  • Air

Some notable facts:

  • The average person spends 220,000 hours in bed over the course of a lifetime.
  • The phrase "sleep tight" probably comes from the 16th century when mattresses were laid on a lattice of ropes that needed tightening. The phrase was later combined with "don't let the bedbugs bite" in rhymes for children.
  • In the late 18th century, when cotton was used in mattresses on iron beds, it was discovered that vermin disliked this combination. Until that time, bugs in the bed were accepted as a regular part of sleeping.
  • Water beds were used in Persia in 1500 BC, and also later, during the Roman empire.
  • The first spring mattress was patented in 1865, but spring mattresses did not become widely used until the 1930's.

The Better Sleep Council's History of Beds
World Wide Words, on the origin of "sleep tight"
New York Daily News At Your Service column, Mattresses/Beds (note that way at the bottom of this page, alphabet games are recommended as a way to help you fall asleep)