Edward L. McRoskey and the History of Tufting


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McRoskey & Co's Harrison St. building around the time of the 1906 earthquake. The building is still there.

In the late 1800's, the McRoskey brothers, Edward and Leonard, moved from St. Louis to San Francisco to sell mattress manufacturing equipment to mattress makers on the West Coast. They arrived in the middle of a nationwide economic shock and discovered that there weren't many mattress manufacturers in the area, and decided to set up shop making mattresses themselves.

 

McRoskey Mattress Company Opens in 1899

Edward L. McRoskey, inventor and visionary.

They established McRoskey Mattress Company in 1899, with a small factory in a rented space on Sutter Street. They moved to a showroom and factory on Harrison Street sometime before the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906. Because the neighborhood was spared the inferno's flames, the disaster ended up being good for business, as many San Franciscans needed to replace their incinerated beds. According to family lore, the lines were around the corner for several months after the earthquake at the Harrison Street location.

In the 1920s the two brothers became competitors: Leonard continued to operate McRoskey & Co. while Edward opened his store at 1506 Market Street under the name of Edward L. McRoskey Mattress Company. In 1925, Edward built a new factory and showroom at 1687 Market Street where the company continues to operate today. He was very forward-thinking with the building's construction and design, it was built out of reinforced concrete to help it withstand future earthquakes. In 1929, Edward's brother Leonard passed away and his business was closed.

 

Edward L. McRoskey and his Tufting Machines

Edward L. McRoskey's patented tufting system.

Edward L. McRoskey was a passionate inventor and loved to create new machines and processes to increase quality and efficiency. One of the major problems when constructing a mattress is how to align all the padding and get it to stay in place over time.

Traditionally mattresses would be tufted, a process where a long needle with heavy thread would be drawn through the many layers of mattress material and then tied taught, making a small divot - or tuft - on each side of the mattress, a process similar to quilting.  Tufted mattresses look a bit like upholstered couch cushions. The problem was - and is - that mattress materials are very fluffy, and so getting the tufts taught and evenly spaced can be a fabrication challenge.

Edward decided that the solution lay with creating a machine that would compress the mattresses all at once, to simplify adding taught even tufts. On May 1,1931 he filed for his first patent (U.S. Patent No. 1,977,856) for a machine that was known as the time as the McRoskey Tufting Machine, it was a predecessor to what is now known as a gate compressor. A few months later, he received a patent (U.S. Patent No. 1,931,202) for a new tufting process enabled by his innovative machine. These tufts were stronger and required much less needle work from the mattress makers.

A few years later, Edward decided to refine the process even further, so he invented a button threading machine (U.S. Patent No. 2,088,865) to add buttons to mattress tufts. He later refined tufting even further by inventing a hand tool to tuft with, eliminating the need for a long upholstery needle (U.S. Patent No. 2,176,141), and increasing the resiliency and springiness of the mattresses constructed using it.

 

Tufting Today

Edward L. McRoskey's patent application for a mattress tufting device.

In the past 40 years, many mattress manufacturers have abandoned the traditional tufting process, replacing it with less expensive (and sometimes toxic) glues that inhibit airflow through the mattress. Through all this, McRoskey Mattress Company has stayed true to our heritage as tufting innovators. Our mattresses are held together the natural way - with tufts - meaning that our product allows for airflow for maximal sleeping comfort, lasts a long time and is repairable for durability. You won't find any glue in a McRoskey mattress, because we do things the traditional, and we think the better way.

 

Rebirth of a Classic

We are pleased to announce that we have recently upgraded our tufting equipment to closely resemble the machines invented by Edward in the 1930's, (although these tufting machines use computers to line up the tufts, and automatically tie them off instead of the process happening entirely by hand). These new machines mean a better product for our end users as well as a safer manufacturing process for our workers. We are proud to be part of the heritage of quality mattress manufacturing, as well as the history of American Makers.

Our new mattresses have a pinstriped ticking, as a nod to the traditional mattress manufacturing; processes which we continue to celebrate at our factory today.

An open letter to manufacturers who were trying infringe upon patented McRoskey Tufting around the mid 20th century.

Kaytea Petro