The bed is named for William Lawrence Murphy (1876–1959), who applied for his first patents around 1900. According to legend, he was wooing an opera singer, but living in a one-room apartment in San Francisco, and the moral code of the time frowned upon a woman entering a man's bedroom. Murphy's invention converted his bedroom into a parlor, enabling him to entertain. Earlier foldup beds had existed, and were even available through the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog, but Murphy introduced pivot and counterbalanced designs for which he received a series of patents, including one for a "Disappearing Bed" on June 18, 1912 and another for a "Design for a Bed" on June 27, 1916.
Murphy beds are used for space-saving purposes, much like trundle beds, and are popular where floor space is limited, such as small homes, apartments, hotels, mobile homes and college dormitories. In recent years, Murphy bed units have included options such as lighting, storage cabinets, and office components. They have seen a resurgence in popularity in the early 2010s due to the weak economy, with children moving back in with their parents and families choosing to renovate homes rather than purchasing larger ones.
In 1989, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the term "Murphy Bed" had entered common usage so thoroughly that it was no longer eligible for trademark protection.
Designs and models
Most Murphy beds do not have box springs. Instead, the mattress usually lies on a wood platform or wire mesh and is held in place so as not to sag when in a closed position. The mattress is attached to the bed frame, often with elastic straps.
Since the first model several other variations and designs has been made like: Sideways mounted Murphy beds, Murphy bunk beds and solutions that includes other functions. Murphy beds with tables or desks that folds down when the bed is folded up is popular, and there are also models with sofas and shelving solutions. 
When attempting to pull a Murphy bed down from the wall, it is possible that it could collapse on the operator. Two women were entrapped and suffocated by a collapsing Murphy bed in 2005.
A man died in 1982 from suffocating inside a Murphy bed.
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Murphy beds were a common setup for comic scenes in early cinema, including in silent films. Among the films which use Murphy beds as comic props are Charlie Chaplin's 1916 One AM, several Three Stooges shorts, "It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World", the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, Mel Brooks's Silent Movie, "The Pink Panther Strikes Again", and in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit".
- "History of the Murphy Bed", Murphy Bed Company, retrieved 2013-01-28
- "Curator Finds Murphy Bed’s Place in American History", Smithsonian, April 28, 2009
- Saperstein, Susan; Field, Peter, "Murphy In-a-Dor Beds", San Francisco City Guides
- Murphy, William, "Disappearing Bed, 5/172", Google Patents
- Murphy, William, "Design for a Bed, D06/389; 5/414; 5/DIG.1; D06/391", Google Patents
- Melamed, Samantha (January 12, 2013), "Hidden beds springing out of woodwork", The Philadelphia Inquirer
- Klein, Jeffrey (August 17, 1989), "Trademark Defense Comes Off the Wall", Los Angeles Times
- "The history of Murphy-beds".
- "Murphy bed models".
- Sisters Died after Folding Bed Collapsed Entombing Them for Four Days. Telegraph, December 18, 2009.
- Man Dies Inside Murphy Bed. Wilmington Morning Star (Wilmington, North Carolina), June 15, 1982.