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When Was Memory Foam Invented? The Origins of a Space-Age Product

Discover the fascinating history of memory foam, originally developed by NASA-funded researchers for comfortable flight cushions.
nasa astronaut in space with memory foam bed

Have you ever wondered how memory foam came to be? You probably sleep on it, sit on it, or know someone who does. Memory foam is everywhere these days. But where did it come from? How was it invented? Turns out, it has an out-of-this-world origin story.

Memory foam was originally developed in 1966 under contract with NASA's Ames Research Center. Scientists there were searching for a material that could absorb shock and conform to shapes to increase safety for aircraft seats. What they came up with was a temperature-sensitive polymer that softened with heat and pressure, and then returned to its original shape once cooled. Pretty space-age, right?

NASA's Search for Aircraft Cushioning Leads to Memory Foam

NASA needed a material to cushion astronauts during extreme G-forces. In 1966, they funded a project to develop a temperature-sensitive, viscoelastic polymer.

Memory Foam Was First Created in 1966 by NASA Scientists

Memory foam was first created in 1966 by NASA scientists researching airplane safety. They developed a foam that could cushion high-impact collisions. This space-age foam, called temper foam is adjusted to a person's shape and absorbs energy.

Early Development Focused on Medical and Aviation Uses

NASA developed memory foam in the late 1960s to improve seat cushioning and crash protection for aircraft. Made of heat-sensitive polyurethane, memory foam molds to the shape of an object and then returns to its original form once pressure is removed.

Memory Foam Technology Was Kept Secret Until the 1980s

Memory foam technology was originally developed in 1966 under contract by NASA's Ames Research Center. However, the formula and manufacturing process were kept classified for decades. NASA initially used it to improve the safety of aircraft cushions.

Memory Foam Goes Public

It wasn't until the 1980s that memory foam was first introduced to the public. Fagerdala World Foams, a Swedish company, was the first to develop a memory foam formula that could be sold commercially. They launched the first memory foam mattress in 1991.

NASA Allowed Memory Foam Patents to Expire in the 1990s

NASA allowed the patents for memory foam to expire in the 1990s, opening the door for companies to create their own versions of the space-age material.

Memory Foam Transitioned to Consumer Products Like Mattresses

Memory foam transitioned from NASA to your bedroom. Originally developed to improve seat cushioning and crash protection for aircraft, memory foam was created in 1966 under contract to NASA. It took a few decades, but in the 1990s, memory foam mattresses and pillows started hitting the consumer market. People loved how the material molded to the body, relieving pressure points.

Tempur-Pedic Popularized Memory Foam Mattresses in the 90s

In the 1990s, Tempur-Pedic began selling memory foam mattresses, popularizing their use and bringing them into the mainstream.

Other Brands Entered the Memory Foam Market in the 2000s

Memory foam technology became popular and widely available to consumers in the early 2000s. As more people experienced the benefits of memory foam, other brands started producing their own versions.

The Future of Memory Foam Looks Bright With New Innovations

The future of memory foam looks bright with new innovations continually improving comfort and support. Foam hybrids and gel infusions provide cooling comfort for hot sleepers. Combining memory foam with latex or gel layers helps prevent the sticky, trapped feeling experience.

These hybrid mattresses offer the pressure relief of memory foam with added responsiveness.

Who first invented memory foam?

Memory foam was first developed in 1966 by NASA to improve seat cushioning and crash protection for pilots and passengers in supersonic aircraft.

How was memory foam discovered?

Memory foam was originally developed by NASA's Ames Research Center in the 1970s. NASA funded a project to design a foam material that could help relieve pressure on astronauts during lift-off. Scientists developed a 'temperature-sensitive' polymer material with an open-cell structure. This polymer material was called viscoelastic polyurethane foam. When astronauts lay on this open-cell material, their body heat caused the foam to mold to their shape. Yet when they moved, the foam slowly regained its original shape. This responsive, moldable property gave rise to the name "memory foam."

When did memory foam beds come out?

Memory foam mattresses as we know them today were first introduced in the early 1990s. NASA originally developed memory foam in the 1970s to improve seat cushioning and crash protection for aircraft.

Called “temper foam” at the time, it was made of a heat-sensitive viscoelastic polyurethane foam. The open-cell material was able to mold itself to the shape of the body in response to heat and pressure.

What was the original name of memory foam?

Memory foam originally went by a different name—temper foam.

Temper Foam

Temper foam was first developed in 1966 for NASA. They wanted a material that could absorb shock and conform to the shape of a person's body. Temper foam, made of polyurethane, fits the bill.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it. Memory foam has come a long way since its invention by NASA in the 1970s. What started as a material to improve safety and comfort for aircraft seats has turned into an industry of its own, with memory foam mattresses, pillows, and other products available for purchase around the world. The next time you sink into your memory foam mattress or rest your head on that perfectly molded memory foam pillow, think of the NASA scientists who made that comfort possible. While they probably had no idea of the widespread impact their space-age invention would have on the lives and sleep of people everywhere, we have them to thank for the rest we enjoy each night. Memory foam is one of those inventions that proves even the smallest discoveries can lead to big changes.