The History of Memory Foam

Memory foam and the cooling mattress are renowned for their comfort. The technology used to improve sleep quality is fairly new, though. Learn more about the history of this popular innovation as you consider the best way to improve your sleep.

History of Memory Foam

A space-age invention, memory foam was originally developed by aeronautical engineer Charles Yost. Yost worked on the designing team for NASA’s 1962 moon command modules. During observations, NASA found that gravitational pull created bumpy takeoffs and landings that were intensely uncomfortable for the astronauts. Individually molded seats would improve comfort, but the men’s body shapes and needs often changed as they trained for missions. NASA contracted with Yost and other engineers to develop safer and softer seat cushions that would also be economical and practical.

Yost completed his open-cell foam invention in 1966. His team created the soft, pliable and energy absorbent foam by feeding gas into soft polymeric material. The resultant “temper foam” or T-Foam included cells that conformed to the user’s body pressure and adjusted to each movement. This foam evenly distributed weight, relieved pressure points and dispersed temperature, too, which improved comfort. Additionally, the foam sprang back into its original shape, offering each user a personalized seat cushion.

After his NASA contract ended in 1967, Yost formed his own company Dynamic Systems, Inc. (DSI) and continued to make improvements to the foam’s design. The first generation of memory foam would crack or compress and break down in as little as two years. Yost and his team sought to create a longer-lasting product with improved performance.

Yost also sought additional uses for his T-foam invention in the medical, automotive and military fields. For example, Beckton-Dickinson purchased the foam formula in 1974 for use as a liner inside football helmets.

Eventually, Yost modified the T-Foam formula. Known as Dynafoam, the improved formula served as cushion material. Further modifications in later years led to the creation of SunMate, Pudgee and Liquid SunMate Foam-in-Place Seating (FIPS), which are products that still manufactured today.

NASA released the rights to the memory foam formula in the early 1980s. The manufacturing process remained expensive and challenging, though, and produced inconsistent results. These drawbacks didn’t deter Swedish Fagerdala World Foams. One of the first companies to work with the material, they finally released the Tempur-Pedic Swedish Mattress in 1992.

Other early public-use adaptations of T-Foam met a variety of needs in numerous industries. For example, it was used to improve the comfort of the firm hospital bed mattresses used by immobilized patients and lined motorcycle seats.

Despite the benefits, memory foam remained difficult to work with in the 1990s. The material retained heat and caused discomfort to users. The formulation of a second-generation material sought to resolve this problem. It was more breathable and offered more overall comfort.

A third-generation, released in 2006, implemented gel. Developed by Peterson Chemical Technology, the improved formula fused gel particles with visco foam to create beads. This beaded innovation boosted spring back time, softened the material’s feel and reduced the absorption of body heat. The new technology also paved the way for the cooling memory foam mattress.

Memory foam continues to evolve today. Scientists have added other materials, including aloe vera, green tea extract and activated charcoal, to the foam in an effort to reduce odors. Another addition, rayon, is used in mattress covers to wick away moisture and improve comfort.

Uses of Memory Foam Today

Memory foam has come a long way since its early days with NASA. Today, you can find this material in a variety of common items you may use every day.

Mattresses and pillows may be the most familiar items that use this space-age invention. Memory foam cool gel mattresses conform to the user’s body, which can provide a more comfortable sleep. Users report less pain since the material disperses body weight evenly across the mattress and thus relieves pressure points on shoulders, hips and legs. The cool gel memory foam mattress also reduces heat throughout the night. Thanks to this technology, you may get a more comfortable night’s sleep, experience less pain and less insomnia, and wake up more refreshed.

Look for memory foam in other items, too. A component of certain shoe insoles, the foam cushions feet during physical activity. Prosthetic limbs also use foam to relieve friction between the limb and skin and to reduce sweat buildup. Shock-absorbing foam inserts in NASCAR vehicles prevent injuries during crashes. Wheelchair cushions, orthopedic seats and hospital beds contain this cushioning to aid patient comfort. The military utilizes the technology in bulletproof vests, aircraft ejection seats and vehicle shock absorbers.

For over 50 years, memory foam has provided cushioning in various capacities. This technology is an important part of today’s cooling mattress and other devices. And we owe it all to NASA, Charles Yost and a host of other developers who were committed to comfort and dedicated to creating the most comfortable, functional and affordable cushioning material possible.

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