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Backtracking Memory Lane in Comfort: The Evolution of Automotive Cushioning

July 27, 2015

vintage car

One of the important characteristics car owners, enthusiasts, manufacturers look for in a car is comfort. And one of the things in an automobile that provides this are its seats. After all, this is where the drivers and the passengers will be sitting for the duration of the travel.

With today’s polyurethane foam technology, car seats can even be more comfortable than a sofa bed. However, that wasn’t always the case. If you’re curious how it felt like to sit inside a car many decades ago, then read up.

The Horseless Carriage

The Karl Benz car, the world’s first petroleum-based fuel vehicle, was invented in 1885. Its looks are definitely a far cry from today’s sleek, high-speed sedans, as it was basically just a leather bench with three bicycle wheels.

The seat, which is made of leather, sat atop springs mounted directly on the car frame. This, of course, offered comfort, but it surely made the customer feel every bump on the road the car will encounter.

Early Cars in the Early 20th Century

During the early 20th century, cars have become the main mode of transportation, making the horse-pulled carriage uncommon, if not completely antiquated.

In the span of forty years since its invention, the car has improved much greatly, resembling more closely how it looks today. And if its interior has improved, then so have its upholstery.

Different materials were being tested and used – cloth, duck, sheeting, cambric, muslin, buckram, webbing, cotton wadding, feathers, top materials, slip cover materials, cords, and bindings, just to name a few.

driving in car

The Tough 30’s

In just ten years, latex foam rubber, a material that was considered revolutionary for its time had been commercialized and used in different fields, including the automobile industry. It was tough yet comfortable to sit on, making it seem almost like the car seats we have today – except they’re a little more uncomfortable and not as tough. Still, it’s notably resilient, and the only thing that usurped it is polyurethane foam.

Polyurethane Foam: The 50’s Until Today

In 1957, the usual material that is used for cushioning is the latex foam rubber, thanks to its tenacity. However, it lost its crown when it was pitted against polyurethane foam, the material which we now know and use in many automobile-related applications and constructs such as seats, steering wheel, and coatings.

Unlike latex foam rubber, polyurethane foam bottoms out far less often when stressed, and its force deflection is far superior is far superior to latex foam rubber. Another advantage polyurethane foam has over latex foam rubber is that it is a lot more resistant to UV exposure, with latex foam rubber cracking after a prolonged time. And lastly, polyurethane foam is a lot more resistant to oxidation.

Many years passed, and polyurethane foam is still the main material used in automobile seating, and rightfully so. It’s resilient, light, and resilient. So, is it still going to be the most favored material when it comes to making car seats? Only time will tell.