Groovy, Sexy Waterbeds
Model lying atop the 'Pleasure Island' waterbed in 1971 designed by Aaron Donner. (Photo by Heinz Kluetmeier/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Throughout the 1970s, many swinging singles and frisky young couples chose to get a waterbed instead of a conventional bed. Were they lured in by the supposed health benefits of sleeping on a bladder of warm water? Were they concerned about the quality of their sleep or the easing of their aching muscles? Probably not! What attracted the groovy generation to the newfangled invention known as the waterbed was the sexiness and kinkiness of it. Even in the prototype stage, the waterbed earned a reputation for being the bed the groovy generation wanted to make love on. Let’s take a look at the rise and fall of the groovy, sexy waterbed.
A Comfort-Seeking Grad Student Created the Modern Waterbed
Charles Hall, a student at San Francisco State University, had an innovative concept that he hoped would revolutionize the furniture industry. His idea was to emphasize comfort over aesthetics. For his master’s thesis project, he built the first modern waterbed. He experimented with filling the balloon-like mattress with various substance, including Jell-O, sand, and cornstarch before deciding that plain, ol’ heated water gave the maximum comfort. In 1968, he showcased his invention at an exhibition with other students and their creations. It was clear to him, when everyone stopped to roll around on his waterbed, that he had invented a new fad.
Hall Planned to Create a Whole Line of Water Furniture
With the success of the waterbed, Hall planned to create more inventive, comfort-oriented furniture. He attempted to make water sofas and water chairs, but they did not have the widespread appeal that the waterbed did.
The Waterbed was the Bed of Choice for Hippies
At first, Hall sold his waterbeds via word of mouth. Among his first target market was the free-loving hippies. They latched onto the waterbed as a vehicle of the sexual revolution. Waterbeds were new and sexy and the entire focus of the waterbed was on pleasure…the waterbed seemed tailor-made for the free love, sexual experimentation of the late sixties and seventies.
Waterbed Companies Used Sex to Sell Their Products
When Hall’s waterbeds began an uptick in popularity, other companies began to make and sell their own waterbeds. Some of these companies even had sensual sounding names, such as Wet Dreams and Joyapeutic. To attract customers to their brand of waterbeds, these companies used clever and seductive advertising slogans to push the idea of waterbeds being the sexiest kind of bed. One slogan said, “Two things are better on a waterbed. One of them is sleep.”
Hotels Added Waterbeds to their Honeymoon Suites
The hotel industry took notice of the rising trend in waterbed popularity. A few hotels made a switch to waterbeds in all of their hotel rooms, but most of them were reluctant to switch over all of their rooms. Instead, they added waterbeds to just a few of their rooms, particularly their honeymoon suites…further connecting the idea of waterbeds and sex.
Hugh Hefner had a Waterbed, Of Course
Playboy magazine publisher and the king of hedonism, Hugh Hefner, reportedly had a giant, king-sized waterbed in the Playboy Mansion. Hefner’s custom-made waterbed featured green velvet upholstery and was covered in soft, luxurious Tasmanian possum fur. In fact, Hefner spent a lot of time in his waterbed, even running his empire from the bed.
Waterbeds Showed Up in Pop Culture
Phyllis, a sitcom spin-off of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, starred funny lady Cloris Leachman. In one episode of the sitcom, that aired in the mid-seventies, Leachman’s character, Phyllis, is surprised to find that her hotel room has a waterbed covered in pink faux fur. Later in the episode, she accidentally punctures the waterbed and a huge fountain of water sprays all over the hotel room. The waterbed was moving from a sex toy to a comic trope.
By the Mid-Eighties, Waterbeds Were Out
By the late seventies and early eighties, waterbeds were becoming more mainstream. There were even waterbeds made for kids. Waterbeds peaked in popularity in the mid-eighties and then sales plummeted. People began to see waterbeds as a hold-out from a bygone era…they were so retro in a modern world. There are still waterbeds for sale today, but the bed has not been able to reclaim the popularity it had in the groovy era.
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