Today in Technology History

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August 24

The technology underlying the unfolding sofa, that common and useful item of furniture, was invented by Bernard Castro. Born in 1904 in Sicily, he moved to the U.S. in 1919 and worked as an apprentice upholsterer while studying English.

With his life savings of $400, Castro opened his own furniture shop in 1931. Knowing that the Great Depression made it difficult for people to afford apartments with room for lots of furniture, Castro began experimenting with compact combinations of beds and couches.

Of course, furniture that could switch between "sitting" and "sleeping" modes already existed. Such convertible furniture had been around at least since the 1600s -- but it was usually expensive and clumsy. The davenport, which was still somewhat popular at the time, was difficult to open, and it looked like a bed even when folded up.

In the mid-1940s, Castro built an improved convertible couch which unfolded to become a bed with a strong but light metal frame; it featured a "featherlift" mechanism that made it much easier to operate. He patented this innovation, along with many other refinements.

The Castro Convertibles company did quite well selling its unfolding furniture, thanks in part to another of Castro's technological insights. In 1948, he realized that television could be used for advertising. He produced his own TV commercials -- among the earliest ever to air -- which starred his 4-year-old daughter demonstrating how easy it was to unfold the convertible couches.

Castro became a millionaire. He died one decade ago, on August 24, 1991, at the age of 87.

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