Before My Time is about the ancestry and extended family of my four grandparents: John Samuel Krentz (Indiana/North Dakota), Margreta Tjode Hedwig (Gertie) Buss (North Dakota), Rosmer Pettis Kerr (Pennsylvania/Michigan), and Evelyn Elvina Hauer (Michigan), and other topics in genealogy and family history.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

My Grandfather's 120-Year-Old Murphy Bed

R.P. Kerr, reflecting on his folding bed, ca. 1951

Back in 1986, when I was still young and foolish enough to do such a thing, I moved across the country. I didn't have a destination address. I simply packed my grand essentials into my Toyota hatchback and drove 2500 miles. On the day I arrived, I rented an apartment, unloaded the car, unrolled my sleeping bag on my new floor, and called it a day.

I did not bring Grandpa's Murphy bed. Okay, technically, it's not a Murphy bed. My grandpa's bed predates the Murphy Wall Bed Company by more than a decade. The Murphy Wall Bed Company did not come into being until around 1900, when William L. Murphy applied for a patent on his folding bed design. But the folding bed had already been around in one form or another for over 200 years. In the 20th century, the term "Murphy bed" caught hold and came to be used in reference to folding beds in general, and by 1989 it was declared a generic term in court.

On the back of Rosmer's bed is this information:
A.H. Andrews
New York
Pat'd. Nov. 10, 1886
Aug. 10, 1886
I used Google Patent Search to learn more about the bed. This particular folding bed case was designed by Charles Teufel, and only his name appears on the patent. (There were many other interesting folding-bed patents, including one belonging to Charles Teufel and Sanford S. Burr, who patented various folding bed designs over the course of more than twenty years, and another in which Charles Teufel was named as assignor to A.H. Andrews & Company. Because I found the patents rather interesting, a chronological sampling appears at the end of this post.)


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An interesting online biography of Alfred Hinsdale Andrews includes some history of A.H. Andrews & Co. which manufactured the bed. The company was headquartered in Chicago and had factories there and in Buffalo, New York.

I can only speculate about when the bed was purchased and by whom, but I believe it originally belonged to Rosmer's father, Milton E. Kerr. Milton was married first to Bess Zahniser on 16 September 1886, and after her death to Kate Pettis on 15 December 1889. Perhaps the bed was a wedding gift? Regular readers may recall that Milton was in the furniture business in Omaha at that time. Was he able to purchase the bed wholesale? His first son was born in Chicago in 1891. What was Milton doing in Chicago? Could he have been working in the furniture business there, maybe even as an employee of A.H. Andrews & Company? A little session with the Chicago city directories for 1890-1896 could help answer some of these questions.

As far as I know, the bed spent the first half of the 20th century at a Kerr home in Mercer, Pennsylvania. Around 1951, after Rosmer and Evelyn Kerr bought their home on Lakeshore Road (Lexington, Michigan), Rosmer went to Mercer and, with the help of his son-in-law Karl Parker, moved the bed to Michigan.

I believe the snapshot at the top of this post was taken soon after the bed had been placed in the spare bedroom of the Lakeshore Road house. (In fact, as sharp-eyed observers may have suspected, that's actually a composite of two snapshots which I manipulated in Paint Shop Pro.)

As young children, my sister and I slept in that bed a few times on overnight visits. The mattress seemed quite a bit higher than our beds at home! In my memory, the bed was not positioned by the window, but rather against the wall that Rosmer is facing in the picture.

In the mid-1960s, my grandparents decided to sell the Murphy bed. My mother didn't want it to leave the family, so she and my dad bought it and moved it into the breezeway of their home. A few years later, when I had a home of my own, my mother gave me the bed. Unfortunately there was no way to get such a large piece of furniture into my house due to the floor plan, so I had to leave the bed right where it was.

Over the years, circumstances have prevented me from ever taking the bed, so eventually my mother once again gave the bed away, this time to her youngest grandson. He's never had a place for it either, and thus the bed has now spent forty years in my parents' breezeway.

Last month, Apple wrote about the uncertain future of family heirlooms, and I thought about Rosmer's bed. There's been no mattress in it for years, but the case is in great condition. Although it would bring only about $1200 at auction (a guesstimate, based on a fairly similar piece sold at auction a year or so ago), it's a remarkable piece of furniture which, in the right setting, would be a great conversation piece and, with a new mattress, would also provide comfortable sleeping accomodations for overnight guests.

It's been in our family over a hundred years, and like my mother, I can't bear the idea of letting it go. But I've moved fifteen times in the last twenty years. More often than not, I've done the moving myself. Even though I've graduated from hatchback to minivan, the Murphy bed is obviously more than I can handle. And, just like Apple's family, others in my family have their own limitations of space, lifestyle, or whatever. The day may come when there's no one who has a place for it. Then what?

I don't have an answer for that.


A Bit of Folding Bed History in Patents


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Apple said...

It would be a shame for such a beautiful piece to pass out of the family. I hope it finds a new home. I've seen a couple of murphy beds built into walls but this is a very interesting piece of history.

Lee said...

When that time comes, if ever, you call me. I'll build a breezeway just to hold it if I hafta. ;-)

T.K. said...

Thanks, Apple. I've never seen the built-in type of wall bed invented by William Murphy, other than in the movies, I mean. Did you see them in homes from the early 20th century, or in more modern houses?

T.K. said...

Aw, thanks, Lee! You're No. 1 on a very short list of Volunteers With Workable Solutions Pending A Federal Historic Preservation Grant!

Erin said...

Had a similar experience, except we HAD to move the bed - my mom died and the house is being sold. I told her all my life - I want the bed (we called it the mirror bed) but actually making it happen was ANOTHER MATTER. It takes a lot to move one of those things. I had it moved to a furniture refurbisher first, and right now it's on its way to me with a guy who just moves stuff - random things here and there. It was too tall for a standard uhaul! Anyway, good luck with your bed. It's looks like a beautiful piece.

T.K. said...

It really is a beauty, Erin. I think it's in great shape for its age. As for its location, as of 2010 it still sits in the breezeway at my father's house. My nephew is living in a 3rd floor apartment, so it's not going there. And at present, I do have a house that I would actually be able to get it into, but it would have to stay in the living room because there's no way to get it into any of the bedrooms. And I might not live here forever, so for now it's good right where it is.

I'd love to hear how the refurbishing turned out!

Blog Archive


Our Family in Books: A Bibliography

  • My Ancestors in Books (a library of resources and notes pertaining to Reverend Samuel Stone, Major General Robert Sedgwick, Elder John Crandall, and other early Americans in the forest where my family tree was grown)
  • The Zahnisers: A History of the Family in America by Kate M. Zahniser and Charles Reed Zahniser (Mercer, Pa. 1906)
  • History of St. James Lutheran Church [full title: A little of this and a little of that in the 141 year (1861-2002) History of St. James Lutheran Church, Reynolds Indiana] by Harold B. Dodge, published at Reynolds, Indiana, 2002; 170 pages.
  • Lisbon, North Dakota 1880-2005 Quasuicentennial, published at Lisbon, North Dakota in 2005; 391 pages.
  • The Paschen and Redd Families of Cass County, Indiana by Alfred Paschen, c. 2005 (Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, MD); 322 pages.
  • Sheldon Community History: Sheldon Centennial 1881-1981, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 1981; 376 pages.
  • Sheldon, North Dakota 1881-2006 - 125th Anniversary: The Queen of the Prairie, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 2006; 498 pages.
  • A Standard History of White County, Indiana, written under the supervision of W.H. Hamelle, c. 1915 (The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York).
  • The Roots of Coventry, Connecticut by Betty Brook Messier and Janet Sutherland Aronson, c. 1987 (Coventry 275th Anniversary Committee, Coventry, CT); 206 pages.
  • "Elder John Crandall of Rhode Island and His Descendants" by John Cortland Crandall; New Woodstock, New York, 1949; 797 pages.
  • "The Descendants of Robert Burdick of Rhode Island." Nellie (Willard) Johnson, Pd.B.: H & L Creations, LLC.

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