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The History of Pillow Use

Updated on October 19, 2013

How Would You Like to Lie Down on This Every Night?

Where In the World Was Mesopotamia?

The Earliest Recorded Use of Pillows

The earliest historical record of pillow use is from about 7000 BCE in the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia (located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers - where Iraq is today).

These ancient pillows were not at all like our pillows today, however. They were hard - usually made of stone, as is the one in the above picture which was found on an archaeological dig in Egypt.

It is believed that the Egyptians had the softer, more cushiony pillows, too, but they were not commonly used. More often than not, the ancient Egyptians propped their necks up on these stone pillars as a way to keep bugs from crawling into their ears, mouths, and noses.

I can completely understand not wanting insects to crawl into your body orifices, but why the hard stone pillows? Were Egyptians just gluttons for punishment, or did they have some secret knowledge of the benefits of using a hard pillow that we don't have anymore?

I'm not really sure that anyone knows why they chose those hard stone pillows, but they weren't the only ancient peoples to do so.

The Chinese Perfected the Hard Pillow

The ancient Chinese also used pillows constructed of stone or wood, but they always decorated them somehow. Asian cultures believed that soft pillows actually stole energy from your body while you slept. That was why they came up with such elaborate hard pillows.

They even began making pillows out of ceramics sometime before the sixth century AD, as you can see in the picture to the side. Beautiful, but oh-so-uncomfortable-looking.

The Japanese geisha used a similar hard pillow to balance their necks on at night so they wouldn't mess up their hair. Seriously. They didn't want their hair to get messed up while they slept. I guess it must have taken them a really long time to fix their hair, and they didn't want to have to do it every day.

Now, it appears that most people in Japan have given up the hard pillows in favor of all-natural buckwheat pillows. Buckwheat hulls are a great pillow stuffer because they conform to the shape of your head and neck and provide the best support possible for this delicate area of the body. Not sure what they do to your hair, though.

But Not Everyone in Ancient History Enjoyed the Hard Pillow

The ancient Greeks and Romans used pillows that were more similar to what many of us think of today when we hear the word "pillow." These pillows were made of cloth and stuffed with feathers, reeds, or straw. They were often embroidered, and great prestige was given to the highly skilled pillow maker/decorator.

Then the Pillow Fell Out of Favor

In Europe during the Middle Ages, many people did not use a pillow at all. Pillows became status symbols and were mostly reserved for the upper classes. In fact, when Henry VIII was king of England, he banned the use of pillows by anyone except pregnant women (and himself, I think). Most men didn't want to use pillows anyway because pillow use was seen as a sign of weakness.

19th Century Blue Ticking Pillow
19th Century Blue Ticking Pillow | Source

And Then the Industrial Revolution Hit

So pillows were mass-produced by textile companies in the United States and Europe. Suddenly, everyone had pillows on their bed at night. And they even had decorative pillows on their couches and chairs. These were very similar to the ones we use today.

The good thing about these pillows, from an archaeological/historical point of view, is that many of them still exist in some form or another. Notice the one from the 19th century in the photo on the side. You can find many of these pillows in antique stores, historical homes, museums, or maybe even your great-grandmother's closet. Hopefully, by taking care of these historical treasures, we will be able to hang onto them for a little while and share them with future generations.

The History of the Pillow Is Not Yet Complete

Manufacturers keep making improvements on the standard pillow. Bed pillows now come in a range of firmnesses. There are even special contour and memory foam pillows that are designed to adjust to the weight of your head to give you custom head and neck support, no matter what position you sleep in.

Or how about a special neck pillow? It's the same idea the ancients had - support the head by supporting the neck - but it's a lot more comfortable. I have not seen any neck pillows today that are made out of stone. Sometimes change can be a very good thing, indeed.

There Are Many Other Types of Pillows

Take, for instance, some of my personal favorites as a woman who has been pregnant for 18 of the past 45 months and now has delivered two beautiful little girls - the body and the breastfeeding pillow.

A body pillow, while not a necessity, certainly will make it easier and more comfortable to sleep while you're pregnant - especially in the last few months when your belly growth is gaining momentum. My belly never got that large in my two pregnancies, but I still needed to have something between my knees while I slept to keep them rubbing together. A company called Leachco makes some of the best body pillows out there. Check them out.

Breastfeeding pillows are also much more a luxury than a necessity. True, you can still breastfeed your baby even if you don't have one of these, but your baby is not nearly as well supported, and you won't be as comfortable. Believe me. I know. I tried breastfeeding with a regular bed pillow. These special pillows, while they are definitely pricey, really do make breastfeeding a lot easier.

A lot has been said for the My Brest Friend pillow. It does offer superior support for the baby, especially if you're doing the cross-cradle hold. I never had much luck with it using the football hold, however. Or maybe I just wasn't doing something right. A warning: this pillow is really big and bulky, so it was never my favorite. According to Amazon, other mothers seem to like it, so you might want to give it a try if you're breastfeeding.

I much prefer the Boppy nursing pillow. The support for baby isn't as good, but it's still decent (much better than a regular bed pillow). And it's much easier to use in any breastfeeding position. I found I had to change from cross-cradle to football hold from time to time because cross-cradle put too much strain on my back, and this little pillow allowed me to do that very easily. Plus, I could prop my baby up in it when we were done, and she didn't flop all over the place.

The Boppy also gives baby good support for a little tummy time. Can't say that for My Brest Friend!

I'm Sure You've Seen This Commercial!

My Oldest Daughter's Favorite Pillow!

I couldn't write a hub about pillows without mentioning my three-year-old daughter's favorite pillow - the Pillow Pet. Her grandparents bought her the dog for Christmas and the ladybug for her birthday in January. She loves both of them, but I think the dog has a slight edge over the ladybug.

She sleeps with the dog on her bed every night, and I have a hard time getting him off the bed to wash when he needs to be cleaned. These Pillow Pets are machine-washable, at least - as long as you put them in a pillowcase before washing and wash them on the delicate cycle - so your little one won't have to be without their best pillow friend for long.

UPDATE: Even a year later, my little girl is still wild about her Pillow Pets. We were in Meijer recently and passed by a big display of them. As soon as she saw them, she made me stop and told me, "Amanda want a pillow." And she even named the two she already had!

I, of course, gently reminded her that she already had those two and we didn't need to buy them again. My sweet (then) two-year-old (yes, two-year-olds can be sweet!) just said, "Okay." And that was the end of that!

Still, I think this just shows how strong the hold of the Pillow Pet really can be for a young child. Will she still love and play with her Pillow Pets (or even want one) when she's 13? I don't think so, but I know that the fond memories she has of her Pillow Pets now will stay with her for a very long time. It really is a great gift for any child and is well worth the money!

Here's What the Tag Should Look Like

Beware Pillow Pet Scams

Sad to say, there are many Pillow Pet knock-offs out there. Really, I find it hard to believe, but it's true. According to the official Pillow Pets web site, you can rest assured your Pillow Pet is genuine if it has either a "Pillow Pets" or "My Pillow Pets" tag sewn on its back leg. Although, I have to believe that anyone who goes to all the trouble of sewing a whole stuffed animal-pillow together can also sew on a little tag to make it look authentic. Or maybe I'm just being too cynical.

The Evolution of the Pillow Is Surely Not Complete

As with most anything manufactured today, improvements to the pillow are being made all the time. After all, manufacturers have to create bigger and better things to convince you to buy more, or else they don't make money.

What will be the latest pillow craze? Only time will tell. But that's true of everything in history.

How Much Did You Learn From This Hub? No peeking!

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    • workingmomwm profile image

      Mishael Austin Witty 3 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Thanks, good sleeper. Interesting idea.

    • profile image

      a good sleeper 3 years ago

      Many are using the towel pillow.

      Take a towel. Fold it how you like and adjust the thickness.

      Great for people who think pillows are to thick.

    • workingmomwm profile image

      Mishael Austin Witty 6 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Hi, Brinafr3sh and Just History. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

    • Just History profile image

      Just History 6 years ago from England

      I loved this hub, fancy having to sleep on a block of stone or even a piece of wood- too awful to contemplate- I like at least two big fluffy pillows

      Voted up

    • Brinafr3sh profile image

      Brinafr3sh 6 years ago from West Coast, United States

      I never knew there was a breastfeeding pillow, this is cool, thanks.

    • workingmomwm profile image

      Mishael Austin Witty 6 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Karlie. I know, right? I just don't understand that at all. Thanks for reading and commenting. :-)

    • profile image

      Karlie  6 years ago

      I use a micro fiber body pillow their is no way I could sleep on a rock.

    • workingmomwm profile image

      Mishael Austin Witty 6 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Thanks, Tweetmom. Let's hope we don't go back to using the really hard pillows!

    • Tweetmom profile image

      Tweetmom 6 years ago from Newark

      I wonder how would our pillow will look like in the future given the drastic difference from 1000 years ago. Unique hub. Voted up and bookmarked!

    • workingmomwm profile image

      Mishael Austin Witty 6 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Thanks, Quill. I've never used a feather pillow. I don't think it would be good for my allergies!

    • profile image

      "Quill" 6 years ago

      Wonderful read and very enlightening, we use them every day and yet never really have I considered the history. Still stuck on my feather pillow.

      Blessings from Canada

    • workingmomwm profile image

      Mishael Austin Witty 6 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      I know, JL. That stone pillow thing really surprised me.

    • JLClose profile image

      JLClose 6 years ago from OreGONE

      Thank you, ancient Greeks and Romans, for creating soft pillows! I cannot even imagine using a rock as a pillow--good grief, if I had to use a rock I'd rather use nothing at all!

    • workingmomwm profile image

      Mishael Austin Witty 6 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Thanks, Susan. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub!

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Great hub on pillows! I have my favorite pillow and would be lost without it. :)