The bed is named for William Lawrence Murphy (1876–1959), who applied for his first patents around 1900. According to legend, he was wooing an opera singer, but living in a one-room apartment in San Francisco, and the moral code of the time frowned upon a woman entering a man’s bedroom. Murphy’s invention converted his bedroom into a parlor, enabling him to entertain in one living space!
Earlier fold-up beds had existed, and were even available through the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog, but Murphy introduced pivot and counterbalanced designs for which he received a series of patents, including one for a “Disappearing Bed” on June 18, 1912 and another for a “Design for a Bed” on June 27, 1916.
In 1989, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the term “Murphy Bed” had entered common usage so thoroughly that it was no longer eligible for trademark protection.
Murphy beds are used for space-saving purposes, much like trundle beds, and are popular where floor space is limited, such as small homes, apartments, hotels, mobile homes and college dormitories. In recent years, Murphy bed units have included options such as lighting, storage cabinets, and office components. They have seen a resurgence in popularity in the early 2010s due to the weak economy, with children moving back in with their parents and families choosing to renovate homes rather than purchasing larger ones.