Sometimes it's better not to buck a trend and just go with the flow. So, after a suggestion from Adrian McKinty, author of the newly released and wonderful The Cold Cold Ground, that someone should find out where Murphy beds came from, I decided a little reluctantly that I'd look into it.
To be honest, I didn't think there would be anything very specific. No one seems to be able to track down with precision who made either the Davenport sofa or the Davenport desk, even though it was pretty clearly someone named, well, Davenport. There are some ideas around, but no thorough documentation.
I recently learned that Murphy is the number one surname in Ireland. The odds of tracking this one down seemed a lot smaller.
The Murphys are alive and well and living in California. Well, some of them, anyway. They even have a website. (Yeah, go ahead on over--you'll get a quick demonstration.) I'm pretty much poaching directly from their story, but it turns out that one William L. Murphy who was born in Columbia, California, a Gold Rush boom town, made his way to San Francisco at around the turn of the last century. Like San Francisco dwellers even now, he found living quarters cramped and pricey, but being an enterprising type he invented a bed you could fold up into the wall, which at that time and for a long time to come was called the Murphy In-a-Dor Bed. Manufacturing began in San Francisco, but moved eventually to New York. (Although one of my sisters lived in a San Francisco studio for awhile and it had a genuine Murphy bed in it, which I have to say, was pretty neat.)
Another interesting thing about the bed was that it was in high demand in the 1920s and 30s, as urban dwellers faced the same dilemmas they do today. But with the onset of World War II, production dropped off because of the rationing of the steel used to build the bed frames. And after the war, the G.I. bill gave vets the possibility of buying their own homes and finding larger spaces.
Over the decades, this trend reversed, and if you live anywhere where housing is at a premium, as I do, you will be thinking that the Murphy bed seems like a pretty sweet deal.
Thank you, William Lawrence Murphy.