Monday, May 16, 2011

Making Mattresses in the 1940s

From 1940 to 1942, county Extension agents helped rural families replace bed ticking filled with straw into mattresses made with government-supplied surplus cotton. Families making less than $400 a year were eligible to receive 50 pounds of cotton, 10 yards of ticking, and needles, which Mom and Dad then turned into a mattress at the county mattress center.

Extension specialists Pauline Gordon, Mamie Whisnant, Willie Hunter, and Eugene Starnes from N.C. State University taught county agents how to construct the mattresses. County agents located a suitable site for the mattress center, a location large enough to store the bales of surplus cotton donated by the federal government and with space to allow couples to put together mattresses. In 1940, eligible families began transforming North Carolina’s allotment of 4,600 bales of cotton into mattresses with the instruction of the county agent. The following year, the making of comforters was added. The program only lasted two years, but North Carolinians made more than 220,000 mattresses, and some 1.1 million mattresses were made nationwide.

Lorna Langley, home economics agent in Sampson County, recalled visiting a home that had mattresses to see what they were doing with them.

“We went into this lady's home and she had three mattresses, one on top of the other piled on a bedstead. The children were sleeping on the floor. Of course, we raised the question why these three were stacked up and the children were sleeping on the floor. She said, "Well, I will tell you, me and my old man slept on one one night and it felt so good that we decided we would put all of them on here. We are going to take it apart after a while and let the children sleep on them.”

The above quote is from a 1980 interview of the county agent conducted for and published in Knowledge is Power: A History of the School of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University 1877-1984 by Dr. William L. Carpenter and Dean W. Colvard. Published 1986. Online at

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