February 9, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Zalmon Simmons

Zalmon Simmons was a man whose imagination ran to telegraph companies and railroads. But his name survives, not in anything so grand, but surely something more important to most Americans: a good night’s sleep.

Simmons started out in 1849 as a $200-a-year clerk in a general store in Kenosha, Wisconsin. At the time the telegraph was new and the country was dotted with little telegraph companies, most of which were making no money.
The head of one such Wisconsin company owed Simmons some money and was about to sell his business to pay his bill. Simmons decided he may as well take over the business, if that be the case, and cancelled the man’s bill and paid $200 for the telegraph line.

Simmons built up the Northwestern Telegraph Company, partly by letting the railroads use his lines free in return for allowing him to put his poles along their right-of-way. This proved particularly valuable in the rugged west where poles were frequently toppled by storms and buffaloes.

This piqued his interest in railroads and he eventually built the first cogwheel railway up Pikes Peak. The first bed business Simmons got into was the railroad bed business: he supplied clay ballast for railroads that ran across the Great Plains and frequently sunk in the mud during rainy periods. He became president of the Rock Island Railroad.

Simmons got into the bed business quite by accident. He had built himself a little factory in which he manufactured cheeseboxes for his dairy and wooden insulators for his telegraph lines. He met an inventor who showed him a woven-wire mattress, which was really a frame with strands of wire woven through it. The spring was crude but an improvement over the wooden slats or ropes used to support mattresses of the day.

Simmons bought the invention and began making woven-wire mattresses in a portion of his cheesebox factory. The business went well and Simmons put in a line of wooden beds, principally the old-fashioned folding bed, noted for trapping potential sleepers. In 1892 his factory burned down and when it resumed operations Simmons dealt primarily in metal, especially brass, beds.

When Zalmon Simmons died in 1910 at the age of 81 the metal bed was about to be supplanted by wooden bedroom furniture. But it would not matter to the Simmons company as Zalmon Simmons II was guiding the business away from beds and into mattresses. When the Beautyrest hit the market in 1925 Simmons was exclusively in the mattress business.

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