Hammocks, the ultimate sign of summer relaxation, have a long history of work-related use. Today’s post is a little late being published only because I was in the back yard doing some last minute research.
Not counting one man’s crazy idea for a swinging bed in Athens (around 450 BC), the origin of the hammock traces back to South America. They were created and used by natives of the Amazon forests as the ideal sleeping arrangement for the climate. Sleeping off the wet ground had many benefits, from the cooling air circulation, to keeping away from creepy-crawlies. They were originally made from tree bark, and later using twine from the fibrous leaves of the sisal plant. Due to their natural fibers, it’s tough to determine how far back the hammock goes, but the best guess is hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus showed up in the neighbourhood.
After his famous 1492 adventure, Columbus brought some hammocks back to Spain with all his other souvenirs. (This was before the common camping/hiking mindset of “take only sketches, leave only footprints and smallpox”) The hammock was a bit of a novelty in Europe, but wasn’t too popular until a century later the British Royal Navy made the canvas hammock the official bedding on ships. The swinging of the hammock went along with the sway of the boat, and prevented midnight tumbles. It also had the advantage of taking up very little space, and packing away during the day. British sailors brought the beds with them to their civilian life, and hammocks started to take hold.
After their naval success, other government institutions have looked the the hammock for it’s efficiency. It is used by the military, including in Vietnam when the US Army issued waterproof hammocks for the rainy weather. The trouble was, the waterproof bottom just meant that you ended up sleeping in a puddle. Hammocks are used in space as well, though I suppose that’s more a matter of just tying yourself down to something. For a brief experiment, England tried using hammocks in their prisons in the 1800s. It was great, in theory, but the more violent inmates quickly found some, uh, creative uses for the large brass rings used to make them.
Bonus Fact: The word hammock comes from the Spanish word hamaca, which was picked up from Haiti probably on the same Columbus trip. The related Haitian word means ‘fish net’.
I’m still trying to figure out why a hammock emits some sort of sleep-inducing chemical. Further research will be necessary.