Why Is It Called a "California King" Anyway?

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From the mundane to the quirky and outdated, Here's the Thing explores the histories and legends of the objects in our homes.

In the monarchy of mattresses, the California king is often thought of as the ultimate and most powerful player. But why call it "California king"? After all, none of its predecessors have location-driven modifiers. And, as far as we know, there's no King of California. (Although we wouldn't put it past Kanye for trying.)


What is a California king?

First, the basics. What, exactly, is a California king? Most people assume that it's a massive mattress that outsizes the king, but this isn't quite right. A California king is actually ​smaller​ in width than a regular king — standard kings measure 76 inches wide while California kings are 72 inches wide. (So, sorry, Rihanna, you might feel "10,000 miles apart" in a California king bed, but you're actually closer than you'd be in a king.) California kings, do, however, measure four inches ​longer​ than king beds.


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But what's with the West Coast association? And when did these extra-long mattresses become a thing? That's something that's widely debated — but the general consensus is that California was the first state to manufacture and market them.


When were California kings invented?

Slate concludes that the product was developed in the 1920s and 1930s for Hollywood stars longing for beds that were more grand. But the ​Los Angeles Times​ says Cal-kings were a post-war invention to accommodate larger living spaces: "Shortly after World War II, a Los Angeles mattress merchant decided that Californians, Angelenos in particular, had big enough houses and big enough lifestyles to warrant Big Beds. So he built a bed six feet wide by seven feet long, or 72 inches by 84 inches. And he called it the California King."


Then there's another story floating around about a tall man in Concord, California inventing an extra-long mattress in 1982 to accommodate his height.


Why are they called "California kings"?

Despite the various origin stories, most sources do generally agree on two things and that's that they're called California kings because of their popularity in the state during the midcentury and their association with celebrity.

But as far as all us normal folks are concerned — unless you're super-tall, a king will actually feel more spacious, and cost less, too.



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