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The first mass-market inflatable sleeping pad. Perhaps a billion decent nights’ sleep in the backcountry owe a debt of gratitude to a once slumping aeronautics firm. In 1971, when Seattle-based Boeing laid off 80,000 employees*, two of its newly jobless engineers, Jim Lea and Neil Anderson, took refuge in a garage and tinkered until they invented the self-inflating air mattress. (A third founder, John Burroughs, managed to hold onto his Boeing job.) The product’s first run was produced in a machine shop out of the same bright yellow material used to make life jackets. Machine grease still coated the pads when they were delivered to REI, where they went for $17, but they sold out anyway. Today, Therm-a-Rest pads come in dozens of shapes and sizes and remain a top-selling product for parent company Cascade Designs, which now owns MSR as well (see Stove, Portable).
*The print version of this article incorrectly stated that the number of employees Boeing laid off was 15,000. Outside regrets the error.