Pillow : History of Everyday Objects

The history of the pillow can be traced by to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Formed from stone, the top was carved in a half-moon shape to support the neck. The idea obviously wasn’t comfort, at least not immediate comfort. The basic function of the pillow was to keep the head off the ground and prevent insects from crawling into mouths, noses, and ears.

Ancient China also had something similar.  While the Chinese decorated their pillows much more ornately, they were still made of hard materials—porcelain, stone, bronze, bamboo, or wood.  Though they had the knowledge and ability to create soft pillows, they believed that such pillows stole energy and vitality from the body while one slept and were ineffective at keeping demons away. Traditionally, the Chinese believed that hard pillows were better because they kept the evil spirits at bay

Ancient Greeks and Romans used pillows similar to those we know today– a sac of cloth filled with soft materials such as feathers or straw. By the Middle Ages in Europe, however, pillows had become extremely unpopular. This is because men began to view them as a sign of weakness. Their use therefore became limited only to women, especially expectant mothers.

It was only in the era of the Industrial Revolution that the pillow became a common household object. The improvements in technology made mass production of textiles possible, meaning everyone could sleep with a pillow at night and could even afford decorative pillows for chairs and couches, something that earlier would have been seen as a symbol of high status.