Then and Now: Five of America’s First Hammocks, 1860-1900


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After taking a look at the origins of the world’s first hammocks in my last post, I became more curious about the first American-made hammocks.

1. 1879: Travers’ American Hammock.

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At first glance, the Travers’ hammock looks pretty similar to what we use today. But there are a few curious differences.

As you look through these 19th century hammocks, notice how the bed is woven. Look for spreader bars (the wooden sticks at the foot and head of the hammock’s bed), and the connection between the hammock and its base.

For instance, on the Travers’ hammock above, the spreader bars are exceedingly curved, creating an elongated “U” shape. If the drawing was true to form, the woman in the advertisement would be sunk much more deeply into the bed!

That’s why you’ll see straight — or almost straight — spreader bars in modern hammocks. Curved spreader bars exaggerate the natural shape a hammock takes to the point of discomfort.

2. 1882: “Braided Edge Mexican Hammock”
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The “Braided Edge Mexican Hammock” appeared a few years after the Travers’, and its updated design indicates the level of competition and innovation necessary to succeed in the hammock industry, even during its infancy.

Check out the connection between the hammock and the trees in the Travers’ and Braided Edge products. Travers’ just kinda wrapped the extra rope from each end around the tree. The Braided Edge attaches in a more modern way: the hammock has attachments at each end that connect to a separate hanging apparatus tied to the tree. This allowed for greater flexibility and portability.

The Braided Edge also includes a special hammock pillow: one of the first (if not THE first) of its time.

And are we beginning to see a trend? Elegant, reclining young women. A coastal scene. Leisure, class, and luxury. Hammock makers catered to the growing middle class developing during the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th century.

3. 1870~90: Union Web Hammock
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The Union Web Hammock appears to have some sort of hanging hook, but the advertisers have obscured the manner in which their hammock is attached to the tree in this picture. On one side, it seems to be suspended in midair! It’s possible this omission was intended to avoid patent infringement.

Like its competitors, the Union Web advertisers depict the hammock as a lounging place for ladies of privilege, lounging on their estates with a mustachioed beau. Without spreader bars, this hammock would have been exceedingly uncomfortable — there’s a reason she’s propped her head up with her hand in the image!

4. 1870~1900: The “Gem”
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Sometime between 1870 and 1900, American hammock merchant D.H. Brigham and Co. came up with the first hammock hanging solution not to include trees. A hodgepodge of wooden posts, suspect metal brackets, and hanging ropes, the “Gem” was the first mass-produced, freestanding hammock stand in the world.

Oh, and did we mention that at the time, you could have the hammock, stand, and pillow for just $15.00? Adjusting for inflation, that’s over $400 in today’s currency! A luxury item, indeed.

5. 1889: Pawleys Island Rope Hammock

Today, hammocks are much more affordable. But it’s incredible how many people will skimp and go for an overseas-made product, when for just slightly more, you can get an heirloom-quality hammock with a tradition of craftsmanship comparable to the hammocks listed above.

Joshua John Ward, a descendant of some of the largest farmers in South Carolina, worked on a barge transporting goods along the lucrative inland shipping routes near Pawleys Island, where his family had lived for generations. To Ward, hammocks were the natural solution for comfortably catching some Z’s on the water, but nothing he tried satisfied him.

He decided he’d try to make one himself. His creation endures today in the form of the Pawleys Island Rope Hammock, which has survived intact from Ward’s original design. We’ve only updated the varnish applied to the wooden spreader bars, and the added of polyester and DuraCord rope variations. A full line of products inspired by “Captain Josh” and his original designs is available here. They remain handcrafted domestically today, by some of the most gifted and experienced hammock weavers in the world.

Pawleys Island Hammock
The Original Pawleys Island Rope Hammock, available from $159.99 in cotton and polyester, available here.

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