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SIMMONS COMPANY RECORDS, 1892-2000
#731

(88 cu. ft.: 60 DB, 8 (.5)DB, 28 FltB, 14 (.5)FltB, 53 F/O, 3 ShB, 1 LP box, 9 film cans, 1 cassette box, 16 O/S Fldrs)

By: Jennifer Snyder, September 2002*

History

An article in the Simmons in-house publication The Owl states Zalmon G. Simmons “was not the inventor or first manufacturer of bed springs. His contribution was in lowering the price so that everyone could afford them. He took a hand-made item that sold for around $5 wholesale, and developed machinery which would enable its sale for as little as 80 cents.”1

Simmons was born in Montgomery County, New York, in 1828. He moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin, at the age of fifteen with $3.00 in “tangible cash assets.”2  Upon finishing school, Simmons became a teacher and worked as a clerk in a general store; eighteen months later he bought the business.3  Simmons was an enterprising individual and eventually became the President of the Rock Island Railway Company, the Northwest Telegraphy Company (which was bought by Western Union), and the First National Bank of Kenosha. In addition, Simmons served as mayor of Kenosha.

On April 16, 1871, Simmons purchased a cheese box factory, which also made wooden telegraph insulators for his telegraph company. As payment for a debt at his store, Simmons accepted a patent for a handmade, woven-wire bedspring.4  Thus the Simmons legacy of mattress making was born. The company incorporated in 1884 as the Northwestern Wire Mattress Company.5  The name was changed to the Simmons Manufacturing Company in 1889. “By 1891 the company was the largest of its kind in the world.”6

When Zalmon Simmons died in 1910, his son, Zalmon Simmons, Jr., assumed power and continued expanding the company. “By 1919 the company had plants from coast to coast plus sixty-four warehouses and the beginnings of an export business.”7  Zalmon Simmons, Jr. became Chairman in 1932 and his son, Grant G. Simmons, became President of the company.

Since it appeared on the market, the Simmons name has become synonymous with its best selling product, the Beautyrest mattress. Simmons introduced the Beautyrest in 1925 for the price of $39.50, about three to four times what the consumer was paying for a wire mattress at the time. Immediately the company began advertising using an innovative testimonial campaign featuring “celebrities” like Henry Ford, George Bernard Shaw, and Thomas Edison. By 1929 Beautyrest mattress sales had reached $9 million.8  Grant G. Simmons wrote, “The consumer demand for Beautyrest stimulated by our national advertising literally forced hundreds of retailers who then had no interest in doing business with Simmons to carry our products.”9

Card tables and folding chairs were added to the Simmons line in 1926. In 1940, the Hide-A-Bed sofa (which grew out of the studio couch of the 1930s) was born. Fold-out springs and mattresses were engineered to create the pull-out bed.10  The Hide-A-Bed became one of the company’s most famous products manufactured through the 1980s.11 During WWII the company shifted its production to wartime needs, manufacturing 2,700 different items.12  Almost immediately after the end of the War, Simmons resumed production; and in 1947 it introduced the Babybeauty mattress. Other Simmons mattress models have included, most notably, the Deepsleep and Maxipedic.

Throughout the years the Simmons Company has had many innovators and inventors make improvements to its mattresses and manufacturing machinery. John Marshall’s pocketed-coil spring and John Gail’s improvements and modifications to the manufacturing equipment are many of the most significant contributions. Together, Marshall’s coil and Gail’s pocketing machine made the Beautyrest mattress a reality. 

The Sleep Research Foundation, established in1946 with a grant from the Simmons Company, “instituted a vast research program into the scientific aspects of sleep...dedicated to an objective study of sleep from a physiological and medical point of view.”13  The Sleep Research Center and its findings were a common feature in Simmons advertising.

Simmons has continued to use advertising as a way to make its brand known to consumers. Celebrity endorsements and “glamour girls in expensive lingerie” have been a mainstay in Beautyrest advertising.14 Newspaper advertisements featuring so-called sale prices also have fueled demand for the products.

Company headquarters moved to New York City in 1923 and then to Atlanta, Georgia in 1975, where the company still resides. In 1979, Gulf & Western acquired the company, shifting control to outside the family for the first time. Wickes Corporation purchased Simmons from Gulf & Western in 1985. In 1991, Merrill Lynch Capital Partners, Inc. acquired a majority interest in the company. Today, Simmons has 17% of the bedding market share, second only to Sealy with 22%.15

Scope and Content

This collection is organized into two series: Corporate Materials, 1892-2000 and Marketing, 1896-1990s. Series 1 includes: news articles about the company and the Simmons family; photographs of the machinery, factories, factory workers, products and showrooms; annual reports; various corporate periodicals; audit reports; patents; and materials relating to sleep research conducted by Simmons. Series 2 includes product catalogues, scrapbooks of advertisements, advertising artwork and mechanicals, sales kits, point of purchase items, marketing plans and surveys, sales training videos and filmstrips, and commercials. Of special note are the materials on Simmons involvement in the New York World’s Fair in 1964-65 and the XIII Winter Olympic Games in 1980.

Most newsprint in this collection has been photocopied onto acid-free bond paper and the originals destroyed. Unless otherwise noted, the materials appear in date order within each subseries or sub-subseries. Physically, the materials are arranged by type and size.

Series 1: CORPORATE MATERIALS, 1892-2000, n.d.

Subseries A: History, 1892-2000, n.d. - Kenosha, WI, history (news articles and other documents), Simmons Company history (news articles, correspondence, and commemorative publications), and Simmons Centennial materials. Of note are transcripts of a series of interviews conducted for the 1996 commemorative book; the interviews are in alphabetical order by the interviewee’s last name. Some WWII materials are also located within this subseries.

Subseries B: Photographic Materials, 1892-1990s [bulk dates] - Included here are photographs (black and white, color), negatives, transparencies, and  slides.

Sub-subseries 1: Machines, 1925-1969, n.d. - Features photos of the devices used to make Simmons mattress and furniture including the Marshall pocket machine, stitching machines, and coiling machines. The photographs are arranged alphabetically by type of machine, and there under by date.

Sub-subseries 2: Products, 1936, 1962, 1970s-1990s, n.d. - Some of the photographs may have been used in advertisements, catalogues, and other Simmons publications.

Sub-subseries 3: Personnel, 1917, 1937-1974, 1980s, n.d. - Photographs of Z.G. Simmons, Grant Simmons, Jr., sales force, and board members. Of interest are the sales force photos featuring meeting initiations and “All-American Annual Trips” for top selling employees.

Sub-subseries 4: Facilities, 1892, 1920s, 1936, 1940, 1955, 1960s, 1975, 1980s, n.d. - Photographs of domestic and foreign manufacturing plants, office buildings, warehouses, and stores.

Sub-subseries 5: Other, 1915, 1935, 1940, 1964, 1979, n.d. - Slides used for presentations and photographs that do not fit into the above sub-subseries.

Subseries C: Annual Reports, 1946, 1949, 1952-1983 - Reports given to stockholders focusing on Simmons financial returns and business activities for the year.

Subseries D: Publications, 1926-1994 [bulk dates] - Periodicals published by Simmons for their staff (sales force, plant employees, etc.) and outside parties.

Sub-subseries 1: Owl, 1947-1954 - A nearly complete run of this in-house organ; it was published about once every two months.

Sub-subseries 2: Bedpost, 1984, 1986, 1988-1998 – In-house organ. There are no examples of an in-house organ that may have been published between 1954 and 1984.

Sub-subseries 3: Other Publications, 1926, 1929, 1941, 1970s, 1980s, 1994 - Items published by Simmons and sent to merchandisers.

Subseries E: Business Records, 1903-1987 [bulk dates]

Sub-subseries 1: Records, 1903-1998, n.d. - Consists, in part, of correspondence, speeches, personnel directories, and financial accounting books. Of note is the folder of materials on Simmons participation in atomic testing in 1955.

Sub-subseries 2: Presentations, Studies, and Reports, 1936, 1958, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1987, n.d. - Business plan presentation from Gulf & Western and Wickes. Issues of Consumer Reports magazine featuring Simmons products.

Subseries F: Audit Reports, 1917-1952, 1959-1967, 1977 - Year-end financial audits for Simmons Company, its subsidiaries, and foreign incarnations.

Subseries G: Legal Matters, 1914-1977 [bulk dates] - Federal Trade Commission activities, bills of sale, licensing agreements, trademarks on Simmons logos, and lawsuit exhibits.

Subseries H: Patents, 1904-1954, ca. 1960s, n.d. - Correspondence and legal documents for foreign and domestic patents, many by John Gail. Also included here are the Patent Committee meeting minutes.

Subseries I: National Association of Bedding Manufacturers (NABM), 1949, 1952, 1960s-1970s, n.d. - Materials reflect Simmons involvement with this organization. Several Simmons employees held high ranking positions within NABM.

Subseries J: Sleep Research Materials, 1929-1970s, 1994, n.d. - Materials relating to Simmons sleep research endeavors, especially the Sleep Research Center at the Mellon Institute. Included are journal articles, booklets about sleep and bedding, and a scrapbook of news clippings related to a 1956 article, “Sleep–Just 80 Minutes a Night.” 

Series 2: MARKETING, 1896-1990s, n.d. (Subseries A-K)

Subseries A: Catalogs, 1896-1956, 1970s, 1980, n.d. - The earliest catalogs are from the Northwestern Wire Mattress Company. Catalogs from the regional distributors of Simmons, as well as from England and Canada.

Subseries B: Price Lists, 1939, 1940, 1952-1957 - Institutional and divisional price lists for Simmons products.

Subseries C: Records of Marketing, 1920s-1930s, 1950s, 1970s-1990s,  n.d. [bulk dates] - This subseries reflects the business materials used to market Simmons mattresses to consumer groups and merchandisers including artwork for advertisements, mattress labels, television and radio commercial scripts, and pamphlets aimed at consumers. 

Subseries D: Advertisements, 1920s-1990s, n.d. - A nearly complete continuum of Simmons advertising. The scrapbooks were dismantled to ensure proper preservation. They have been kept intact and the pages numbered to ensure order. The contents of the scrapbooks, in many cases, are duplicated both in the loose advertising and in other scrapbooks. A few of the scrapbooks were completely dismantled and integrated into the loose advertising. There is no record of the original order of these scrapbooks.

Sub-subseries 1: Consumer Advertisements, 1920s-1990s, n.d.  - Advertising pamphlets, mailers, local advertisements, and national advertising campaigns. Competitors’ advertisements are included in this sub-subseries.

Sub-subseries 2: Trade Advertisements, 1920s-1980s, n.d. - The trade advertisements are aimed at the bedding industry and related home furnishings publications. Literature for hospitals, hotels, and interior decorators is found here. Some trade advertising is located in scrapbooks with the consumer advertising; an effort has been made to note these occurrences in this finding aid.

Subseries E: Sales Kits, 1931, 1933, 1946, 1950s-1998, n.d. - These kits were mailed or presented by Simmons sales force members to dealers/merchandisers. The materials feature Simmons products, upcoming promotions, and advertisements that could be customized for each store’s location. **Please note, the Sales Kits, Sales Force Materials, and Dealer Materials, in some instances, are interchangeable. Similar items can be found in each subseries.  It is therefore wise to look in all three areas to find comprehensive information.

Subseries F: Point of Purchase Aids, 1960s-1990s, n.d. - Items placed at the store to be used in conjunction with Simmons products. These include counter cards, informational cards and pamphlets, and display material.

Subseries G: Sales Force Materials, 1923-1927, 1931, 1937-1939, 1940s-1980s, n.d. - Materials aimed at the sales force featuring Simmons products, upcoming promotions, goals and objectives in selling the products, and correspondence. Sometimes these materials could also be shown to dealers/merchandisers. The “All-American Annual Trip” materials are found here, featuring the winners (the top sellers), travel itineraries, and commemorative posters.

Subseries H: Dealer Materials, 1920s-1980s, 1990, 1998, n.d. - Materials aimed specifically at the dealer/merchandiser of Simmons products. These items feature Simmons products, upcoming promotions, and advertisements that could be customized for each store’s location. Many contain promotion and publicity items designed to help the dealer/merchandiser sell Simmons products.

Subseries I: Marketing Studies and Research, 1933, 1939-1949, 1986-1989 - Simmons used marketing studies to customize advertising and further promote products to the proper demographic.  A study done in Danbury, CT, Simmons “Mattress Buyers : Their Homes and Occupations” (1933), and the “Magazine Interview Promotion” (1936) contain photographs of the mattress buyers and their homes, personal information, and reasons why they chose to buy a Simmons mattress.

Subseries J: World’s Fair Materials, ca. 1964-1965 - Simmons participated in the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. This subseries reflects their preparation and participation mainly through artwork and photographs. Most of the preparation was probably done years prior to the Fair taking place. 

Subseries K: Olympic Materials, 1978-1980 - Simmons was an official sponsor of the XIII Olympic Winter Games in 1980 which took place in Lake Placid, NY. Official Olympic sponsor materials make up the bulk of this subseries. Olympic Games related advertisements can be found in Series 2:D:1 and 2:F.

Subseries L: Audio/Visual Materials, 1940s-1990s - Film, video, filmstrips, and audio materials featuring sales force training, commercials, and point-of-purchase videos for the consumer to view in the store. **The materials are currently arranged by medium. This arrangement will change; please see the audio-visual archivist.

Sub-subseries 1: Videos, 1940s-1970s, 1983-1990s, n.d. - Training videos for sales force, in-store videos, television appearances on MSNBC and QVC, and commercial compilations.

Sub-subseries 2: Films, 1970s, 1980, n.d. - Commercials, films sent to dealers featuring upcoming promotions.

Sub-subseries 3: Filmstrips, 1963-1964, n.d. - Informational strips on sleep research, strips directed at sales force training, and a factory tour.

Sub-subseries 4: Audio, 1963, 1965, 1976-1979, 1991, n.d. - Cathy Rigby’s fitness program LP, sales force training, radio commercials, and sales meeting recordings. Audiocassette and reel-to-reel.

CONTAINER LIST

Series 1: CORPORATE MATERIALS, 1892-2000, n.d.

Series 2: MARKETING, 1896-1990s, n.d. (Subseries A-K)

Series 2: MARKETING, 1896-1990s (Subseries L)

Provenance

The collection was donated by the Simmons Company through Mr. Charlie Eitel, Chairman and CEO, and Mr. Donald Hoffman, Senior Vice President of Marketing, to the Archives Center, National Museum of American History, in June 2000.

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1 “Zalmon G. Simmons.” The Owl, December 1952, p. 10-11. Box 1, Folder 4.

2 “Kenosha Bank Celebrates 90 Years; Zalmon Simmons Is Remembered.” Kenosha Evening News, 17 May 1941, n.p. Box 1, Folder 3.

3 Ibid. n.p.

4 “History of Simmons Company.” Report to Stockholders for 1946: Diamond Anniversary, 1871-1946, p. 4. Box 1, Folder 3.

5 “Brief History of Simmons Company.” ca. 1941. Box 1, Folder 2.

6 “History of Simmons Company.” Report to Stockholders for 1946: Diamond Anniversary, 1871-1946, p. 5.  Box 1, Folder 3.

7 “Simmons: The Bedtime Story That Became a Legend.” Advertising News From Newsweek, 1969, p. 3. Box 1, Folder 5.

8 Simmons, Grant, Jr. “Simmons Company, 1870-1963.” p. 7-8. Box 1, Folder 5.

9 Ibid. p. 11.

10 “Simmons: The Bedtime Story That Became a Legend.” Advertising News From Newsweek, 1969, p. 3. Box 1, Folder 5.

11 In 1990, the Simmons Company sold the division that made Hide-A-Beds and recliners and licensed the use of the name to a manufacturer.

12 “Chronology of Simmons Company.” ca. 1955. Box 1, Folder 4.

13 Simmons, Grant, Jr. “Simmons Credits Research and Merchandising in Sales Rise.” The Christian Science Monitor, 28 June 1957. Box 1, Folder 4 and “Simmons History.” ca. 1955. p. 3. Box 1, Folder 4.

14 Simmons, Grant, Jr. “Simmons Company, 1870-1963.” p. 9. Box 1, Folder 5.

15 Encyclopedia of Consumer Brands,1994 ed. S.v. “Simmons Beautyrest” and “Sealy.”

*The following helped process portions of this collection:
Grace Chiang, Anne Jones, Leslie Shope, and Vanessa Broussard Simmons

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E-mail: archivescenter@si.edu
Revised:  June 18, 2003