Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Guide to the Simmons Company Records

Collection ID:
Simmons Company
Physical Description:
9 Film reels
88 Cubic feet
172 boxes, 16 oversize folders

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
Series 1 includes: news articles about the company and the Simmons family; photographs of the machinery, factories, factory workers, products and showrooms; annual reports; various corporate periodicals; audit reports; patents; and materials relating to sleep research conducted by Simmons. Series 2 includes product catalogues, scrapbooks of advertisements, advertising artwork and mechanicals, sales kits, point of purchase items, marketing plans and surveys, sales training videos and filmstrips, and commercials. Of special note are the materials on Simmons involvement in the New York World's Fair in 1964-65 and the XIII Winter Olympic Games in 1980. Most newsprint in this collection has been photocopied onto acid-free bond paper and the originals destroyed. Unless otherwise noted, the materials appear in date order within each subseries or sub-subseries. Physically, the materials are arranged by type and size.

This collection is organized into two series.
Series 1: Corporate Materials, 1892-2000
Series 2: Marketing, 1896-1990s

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
This subject category- engineering consists of documents related to the field of engineering, both as a scientific discipline and as a business. Most of the material in the collection was produced by engineers, engineering firms, or firms using engineers in the course of other activities. The span dates for the collection are 1848-1963; the bulk dates are circa 1870-circa 1930. Most of the firms and individuals represented in the collection were located in eastern states like New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, though there are some items from other states and foreign countries.
Engineers & Engineering Firms material is comprised of materials from firms engaged in various activities in the engineering field, including machine and structural design; drafting; surveying; tool and machine repair and maintenance; consulting and inspection; and the manufacture of machine parts and factory equipment. The series consists of business cards; brochures, catalogs, and pamphlets; invoices and business correspondence; and handbills and other types of advertising matter. Bulk dates for this series are 1870-1930. Most firms in this series were based in the cities of the industrial North, especially Philadelphia, Boston, New York, and Chicago. A few items are from companies headquartered in other states and foreign countries. The material is arranged alphabetically by firm name. An article in the Simmons in-house publication The Owl states Zalmon G. Simmons "was not the inventor or first manufacturer of bed springs. His contribution was in lowering the price so that everyone could afford them. He took a hand-made item that sold for around $5 wholesale, and developed machinery which would enable its sale for as little as 80 cents."[1]
Simmons was born in Montgomery County, New York, in 1828. He moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin, at the age of fifteen with $3.00 in "tangible cash assets."[2] Upon finishing school, Simmons became a teacher and worked as a clerk in a general store; eighteen months later he bought the business.[3] Simmons was an enterprising individual and eventually became the President of the Rock Island Railway Company, the Northwest Telegraphy Company (which was bought by Western Union), and the First National Bank of Kenosha. In addition, Simmons served as mayor of Kenosha.
On April 16, 1871, Simmons purchased a cheese box factory, which also made wooden telegraph insulators for his telegraph company. As payment for a debt at his store, Simmons accepted a patent for a handmade, woven-wire bedspring.[4] Thus the Simmons legacy of mattress making was born. The company incorporated in 1884 as the Northwestern Wire Mattress Company.[5] The name was changed to the Simmons Manufacturing Company in 1889. "By 1891 the company was the largest of its kind in the world."[6]
When Zalmon Simmons died in 1910, his son, Zalmon Simmons, Jr., assumed power and continued expanding the company. "By 1919 the company had plants from coast to coast plus sixty-four warehouses and the beginnings of an export business."[7] Zalmon Simmons, Jr. became Chairman in 1932 and his son, Grant G. Simmons, became President of the company.
Since it appeared on the market, the Simmons name has become synonymous with its bestselling product, the Beautyrest mattress. Simmons introduced the Beautyrest in 1925 for the price of $39.50, about three to four times what the consumer was paying for a wire mattress at the time. Immediately the company began advertising using an innovative testimonial campaign featuring "celebrities" like Henry Ford, George Bernard Shaw, and Thomas Edison. By 1929 Beautyrest mattress sales had reached $9 million.[8] Grant G. Simmons wrote, "The consumer demand for Beautyrest stimulated by our national advertising literally forced hundreds of retailers who then had no interest in doing business with Simmons to carry our products."[9]
Card tables and folding chairs were added to the Simmons line in 1926. In 1940, the Hide-A-Bed sofa (which grew out of the studio couch of the 1930s) was born. Fold-out springs and mattresses were engineered to create the pull-out bed.[10] The Hide-A-Bed became one of the company's most famous products manufactured through the 1980s.[11] During WWII the company shifted its production to wartime needs, manufacturing 2,700 different items.[12] Almost immediately after the end of the War, Simmons resumed production; and in 1947 it introduced the Babybeauty mattress. Other Simmons mattress models have included, most notably, the Deepsleep and Maxipedic.
Throughout the years the Simmons Company has had many innovators and inventors make improvements to its mattresses and manufacturing machinery. John Marshall's pocketed-coil spring and John Gail's improvements and modifications to the manufacturing equipment are many of the most significant contributions. Together, Marshall's coil and Gail's pocketing machine made the Beautyrest mattress a reality.
The Sleep Research Foundation, established in1946 with a grant from the Simmons Company, "instituted a vast research program into the scientific aspects of sleep...dedicated to an objective study of sleep from a physiological and medical point of view."[13] The Sleep Research Center and its findings were a common feature in Simmons advertising.
Simmons has continued to use advertising as a way to make its brand known to consumers. Celebrity endorsements and "glamour girls in expensive lingerie" have been a mainstay in Beautyrest advertising.[14] Newspaper advertisements featuring so-called sale prices also have fueled demand for the products.
Company headquarters moved to New York City in 1923 and then to Atlanta, Georgia in 1975, where the company still resides. In 1979, Gulf & Western acquired the company, shifting control to outside the family for the first time. Wickes Corporation purchased Simmons from Gulf & Western in 1985. In 1991, Merrill Lynch Capital Partners, Inc. acquired a majority interest in the company. Today, Simmons has 17% of the bedding market share, second only to Sealy with 22%.[15]
[1]. "Zalmon G. Simmons." The Owl, December 1952, p. 10-11. Box 1, Folder 4.
[2]. "Kenosha Bank Celebrates 90 Years; Zalmon Simmons Is Remembered." Kenosha Evening News, 17 May 1941, n.p. Box 1, Folder 3.
[3]. Ibid. n.p.
[4]. "History of Simmons Company." Report to Stockholders for 1946: Diamond Anniversary, 1871-1946, p. 4. Box 1, Folder 3.
[5]. "Brief History of Simmons Company." ca. 1941. Box 1, Folder 2.
[6]. "History of Simmons Company." Report to Stockholders for 1946: Diamond Anniversary, 1871-1946, p. 5. Box 1, Folder 3.
[7]. "Simmons: The Bedtime Story That Became a Legend." Advertising News From Newsweek, 1969, p. 3. Box 1, Folder 5.
[8]. Simmons, Grant, Jr. "Simmons Company, 1870-1963." p. 7-8. Box 1, Folder 5.
[9]. Ibid. p. 11.
[10]. "Simmons: The Bedtime Story That Became a Legend." Advertising News From Newsweek, 1969, p. 3. Box 1, Folder 5.
[11]. In 1990, the Simmons Company sold the division that made Hide-A-Beds and recliners and licensed the use of the name to a manufacturer.
[12]. "Chronology of Simmons Company." ca. 1955. Box 1, Folder 4. Rise." The Christian Science Monitor, 28 June 1957. Box 1, Folder 4. & "Simmons History." ca. 1955. p. 3. Box 1, Folder 4.
[14]. Simmons, Grant, Jr. "Simmons Company, 1870-1963." p. 9. Box 1, Folder 5.
[15]. Encyclopedia of Consumer Brands,1994 ed. S.v. "Simmons Beautyrest" and "Sealy."

Jennifer Snyder
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The collection was donated by the Simmons Company through Mr. Charlie Eitel, Chairman and CEO, and Mr. Donald Hoffman, Senior Vice President of Marketing, to the Archives Center, National Museum of American History, in June 2000.
Processing Information
Collection processed by Jennifer Snyder, September 2002, and Grrace Chiang, Anne Jones, Leslie Shope, and Vanessa Broussard Simmons.

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Use
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research but is stored off-site and special arrangements must be made to work with it. Contact the Archives Center for information at or 202-633-3270.

Related Materials
Materials at the Archives Center
Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, ca. 1724-1977 (Beds and Bedding) (AC0060) Ivory Soap Advertising Collection (AC0791)
Breck Girl Collection, 1936-1995 (AC0651) Edward J. Orth Memorial Archives of the New York World's Fair, 1939-1940 (AC0560)
Larry Zim World's Fair Collection (AC0519) Louis S. Nixdorff 1928 Olypic Games Collection, 1926-1978 (AC0443) Lloyd A. Strickland Collection of 1936 Olympics Photographs, 1936 (AC0743)

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Bedding industry Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sleep Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Advertisements Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Business records -- 20th century Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Videotapes Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Mattresses Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Archives Center, National Museum of American History
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