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Home/Mor Furniture Blog/Buying Guides/Why Is a California King Bed Called a California King?

Why Is a California King Bed Called a California King?

Up until the 1940s, most Americans slept on a twin or double mattress. However, about midway through the decade, mattress manufacturers introduced bigger mattresses, but they were mostly ignored by the public until the 1950s. There are several reasons why these bigger mattresses began to gain traction.

According to an article published in an October 1963 issue of Bedding magazine, in 1900 only 4% of adult men were 6’ feet tall or more. But, they reported, by 1959 20% of men were over 6’ feet and women were also growing taller. This information, combined with the post-war economic boom and bigger houses created conditions that were right for bigger beds to take off.

Why Is the California King Bed the Only Bed with a Special Name?

In the hierarchy of mattresses, the California King has a reputation as the biggest, baddest mattress there is. But is this really the case? Does anybody know why a California King bed is called that?

As with most things legendary, the origin of the California King is shrouded in mystery. Here’s a look at the various myths and legends surrounding this confusingly named bed.

1920’s Hollywood Glam

One thing that is known for sure is that the California King has west coast roots. According to the International Sleep Product Association, this super-sized mattress was developed for Hollywood celebrities during the 20s and 30s, which is probably why it is considered glamorous and sexy. And let’s face it, Western King Bed doesn’t roll trippingly off the tongue and has less cachet than the California King moniker.

World War II and Bigger Houses

Shortly after World War II, the California King, and king beds, in general, began to gain popularity. In Los Angeles, people were living in larger houses and living even larger lifestyles. They needed a bed to match, and the California King mattress fit the bill.

Alternative History of the California King Bed

An alternative story on the development of the California King bed starts in Concord, California. Some say that a man with uncommonly long legs invented the bed in 1982. In addition, this long-legged gent had very short arms, making it hard for him to reach his wife when the mood struck. So he developed a bed that accommodated his particular anatomy. As intriguing as this version is, it’s more urban myth than actual fact.

Despite the many origin stories, one thing that most sources agree on is that they earned the name California King because they were so popular in that state and because they were associated with celebrities.

The First Big Bed

Even though the California King bed predates the Eastern King, it was not the first over-sized bed. In 1590, the Great Bed of Ware was created for an Inn in Ware, England. The bed measured 10’ by 11’ and is rumored to be able to sleep 15 people at one time. This bed was so famous it was often mentioned in literature, including Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Charles Dickens The Holly Tree. It now resides in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Historians think that this giant bed was a prototype for the first king-size beds that came centuries later.

The Bigger Bed Trend Takes Off

Manufactures in other parts of the U.S. thought bigger beds were a great idea. But they weren’t as fond of the size of the California King. They reasoned that if you built the bed 76” wide and extended it to 80” (only two extra coils), you could use two single box springs.

As the big-bed trend caught on, the mattress industry created a national standard and chose what is known as the Eastern King bed or just regular king bed because it would fit nicely on two twin bed box springs. However, this doesn’t mean that California King beds went out of existence.

The California King Is Not Actually Larger Than the Standard King

A common misconception is that a California King bed is larger than a regular king-size bet. The name sounds glamorous, so there must be something special about it. Although a regular king mattress is larger, it is not the size but the length that makes a difference.

King bed: 76” x 80” = 6,080”

California King: 72” x 84” = 6,048”

Going by the numbers, a standard king bed has more actual space, but that doesn’t matter much to those who are tall enough that their feet dangle off the edge of the bed. They may prefer the extra room at the bottom of the bed to a wider bed.

Which King Size Bed Is the Best Size?

A standard king-size bed is 80” or 6’8”. Considering that the average height of an adult male is about 5’10 or 70”, you may think a standard king is big enough for most people. That depends. If you are someone who doesn’t sleep with their head pressed right up against the headboard, as most don’t, you may find that your feet hang over the bottom of the bed. There’s all that empty pillow space up there to account for.

So, if you are more than 6’ tall, you may find the standard king bed is not long enough for you. However, if you prefer the starfish position – sleeping with your arms and legs spread wide – you may prefer a bed with extra width more than one with extra length.

Another thing to consider is the size and shape of your bedroom. Both king beds are large and can take up a lot of space. The last thing you want to find out when you get one home is that you have to get rid of your bedside table just to fit it in the space.

This means that if your room is more rectangular, a California King might work better. Not only will it allow you to keep your bedside table, but it will also make your room look larger. Before you go shopping for a new bed, be sure to measure your space and take into consideration the rest of the furniture in your room.


Featured image: Ruff Hewn Panel Bed in Brown