If you're an American consumer, you likely know the "mattress tag", labels attached to mattresses, pillows, stuffed animals, and pet beds, which often begin "This tag may not be removed under penalty of law except by the consumer". The tags indicate manufactures used no recycled material to produce the item. The regulation itself is Title 15, Section 70c of the US code, which can be cloned from github:

After shipment of a textile fiber product in commerce it shall be unlawful, except as provided in this subchapter, to remove or mutilate, or cause or participate in the removal or mutilation of, prior to the time any textile fiber product is sold and delivered to the ultimate consumer, any stamp, tag, label, or other identification required by this subchapter to be affixed to such textile fiber product, and any person violating this section shall be guilty of an unfair method of competition, and an unfair or deceptive act or practice, under the Federal Trade Commission Act [15 U.S.C. 41 et seq.].

This is quite a regulation when you consider it. US mattress manufacturers made $6.4 billion in revenue in 2008 by selling more than 35 million units. Each of those mattresses came with a tag, although all the examples I can find in my own home have three or four tags, often in multiple languages. These figures don't include pet beds, stuffed animals, pillows, or any of other qualifying textile fiber products.

Wikipedia mentions public outcry but doesn't cite sources. It also claims the law passed in the early 1900s, much like regulations about the purity of food. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately?), mattress production isn't a jungle, and I can find no evidence Teddy Roosevelt threw his lice-ridden, recycled mattress onto the Whitehouse lawn the way he allegedly did his breakfast sausage.

Just how angry were American consumers about recycled bedding?

  • I can find no evidence that Roosevelt's mattress would have fit out the window. Good question though. +1
    – Luke_0
    Commented Jul 10, 2012 at 14:56
  • 5
    I do actually remember a time when the labels didn't have that "except by customer" part at the end. It used to be quite the joke (doubtless prompting the clarification).
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 10, 2012 at 15:40

1 Answer 1


I don't remember much of an outcry but I do recall that some of the labelling laws did come about due to health issues. Mattresses and blankets were often carriers of diseases especially in crowded urban areas, and in some of the history books about the time I read the labelling laws were often pointed more towards public safety.

If you think of this as an offshoot of the cheap manufacturing practices in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries then it makes sense. Noting from this article I don't see much that reminds me of an outcry but more along the lines of public health.

In the early part of the twentieth century, a common practice among certain unscrupulous merchants was to sell bedding that was stuffed with everything from straw and horse hair to paper and old rags. As laws protecting the rights of consumers begin to evolve so did the need to provide consumers with easy to understand information. This need led to the requirement to list the contents of bedding materials like mattresses and pillows. Serious public health issues were at stake and officials reacted with what turned out to be relatively simple, common sense regulations.

It is important to remember that during the late eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundreds the population of the country grew very rapidly. It was also a time when many communicable diseases were rampant, antibiotics had not been invented and early antitoxins had a limited efficacy. There was a very real public health crisis especially in overcrowded urban areas and public health authorities and policy makers knew that bedding was a prime suspect in spreading diseases such as small pox. Given these circumstances there was more than enough impetuous to target mattress manufacturers and retailers with rules that protected consumers and were not overly burdensome on business.

I haven't seen sources that note an outcry on recycled materials, but shoddy products with cheap materials might have been more of an issue to some at the time.

I did find another article that notes old, infected mattresses were often resold and they do note another source you might like:

And it wasn't just the ranting of fastidious housewives or muckraking germophobes [sic] which caught the attention of legislators. In fact, according to one official working in New York enforcement, the law actually started from the objections of mattress factory employees who saw the remains of their meals being mixed in with prospective stuffing. (M. Whisner, LAW LIBRARY JOURNAL Vol. 101:2)

  • Guess we learned what happened to Teddy's breakfast sausages, after all. Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 2:44

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