Course:HIST104/The L.L. Bean Cotton Hammock

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History 104
HIST 104
Section: 98A
Instructor: Joy Dixon
Nicholas Simon
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This page examines the materials and history of the L.L. Bean Cotton Hammock seen here

Materials of the L.L. Bean Cotton Hammock

A hammock is essentially a sling made from fabric, rope, or netting, that is suspended between two points. The fabric of the hammocks netting can vary depending on the make/style of the hammock, however it is typically influenced by what weave able material is readably available in its country of origin. The fabric hammock is usually woven in a pattern (such as netting or canvas) to increase the tensile strength of the hammock, the material used in the hammock also has a direct impact of the hammocks ability to retain a person’s weight as weaker material may break under stress and strain. The L.L. Bean cotton hammock is made primarily of cotton, with oak and steel as well.

The first hammocks were created by Native Americans, and were traditionally woven out of bark from a hamack tree, this material was later replaced by sisal fibers as they could be found in a greater abundance. Influenced by the Native Americans, the Spanish introduced the hammock to most of Europe where it evolved and was made out of different materials. Materials such as sisal, palm fibers, and cotton were preferred for their practicality, and more abundant in some regions. Cheap, abundant materials were preferred for hammock construction because hammocks were used as inexpensive sleeping apparatuses.

Therefore, cotton hammocks began appearing when there was an abundance of cotton. Presently, most cotton is of the Gossypium hirsutum strain, which is native to Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean and southern Florida, and amounts to roughly 90% of world production of cotton. Cotton was a good hammock material due to its softness, while still being stronger and more elastic than others, such as the Sisal plant. With cotton being relatively inexpensive and readily available by the 1880’s due to the large quantities of it being farmed, cotton hammocks became increasingly common.

By the 1950’s hammocks builders began using a spreader-bar in conjunction with the hammock. The spreader-bar hammock is found at the head and foot of the hammock and is used to spread the width of the hammock, allowing for easy access. The bar is commonly made out of a durable material such as wood or steel. The spreader-bar found of the cotton hammock created by “Hatteras Hammocks” for L.L. Bean is made out of oak wood. Though there are many different sub variety of oak trees the most common for commercial use include red oak, and European (white) oak. Wood from an Oak tree has an average density of about 0.75 g/cm3. This density when compared to other woods makes oak a great material as it due to its durability and strength. Oak is also very resistant to insect and fungal attacks because of its high tannin content. The use of oak trees for building supplies has been common practice in Europe since the middle ages. From the construction of houses, furniture, barrels, etc, oak has shown to be a reliable and study material throughout the ages.

The Origin of the Materials

Scientists can only speculate on when men and women first spun cotton into thread, colored it with natural dyes, and wove it into products; however, for centuries cotton has been prized for its softness, durability, and coolness in hot climates. As both a raw and finished product, cotton was one of the world’s first international commodities. Wild cotton grows in tropical and subtropical regions of the United States, Mexico, South America, Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, India, Australia, New Guinea, and Hawaii. Although there are no fossil remains of cotton plants, scientists who have studied the taxonomy of cotton believe that the genus was successfully created in subgenera during the Cretaceous period, approximately sixty-five million years ago.[1] Several varieties of cotton developed seed coats, a protection layer from germination, and seed hairs that made flotation possible. Cotton fibers are from four different plant species belonging to Gossypium. The four species were brought into cultivation independently in the eastern and western hemispheres. These varieties allowed for cotton to spread throughout the world and adapt to new climates and terrains.

During an excavation in Mohenjo-Daro in The Indus River Valley of Pakistan, archeologists identified the first bits of string and woven fibers of cotton. This was a civilization that reached its peak between 2300 and 1750 B.C., indicating that the practice of weaving cloth began even earlier. The origin is not clear but Gossypium herbaceum is associated with the Arab influence. Other remains of a variety native to India (Gossypium arboretum) have been found in ancient Nubia on the eastern coast of Africa. The plant was traded for its seeds and used as animal fodder rather than for its fibers. This forty-five hundred year old site indicates established trade routes between Africa, the Middle East and India.[2]

The earliest record of cotton grown, spun dyed, and woven was in India. Alexander the Great returned from his invasion of India with cotton clothes, opening up trade routes to the East. Due to their location, Arab traders began to dominate international cotton trading, setting up coastal cities to control the flow throughout the Middle East. Routes began to develop through Tibet to China as well as spreading North across Europe. By the time Columbus’s voyage southward to the West Indies took place, cotton cloth was a firmly established commodity by the Europeans. Columbus discovery of cotton in the West Indies only contributed to his belief that he had reached Asia. Hernan Cortes who voyaged to Mexico in 1519 discovered the cultivation of cotton throughout Mexico (Gossypium hirsutum) and in South America’s Peru and Brazil (Gossypium barbadense).

Around 1800, cotton quickly became the dominant fiber plant of the Industrial Revolution, and it was in the southern United States that cotton first developed as an industrial crop on a large scale.[3] Cotton first appeared along the coast of South Carolina and was later planted and cultivated in Virginia as a more suitable climate in the early 1600’s. Over the past 170 years upland cotton (American Cotton) has evolved by hybridization and selection into the industrial crop that it is today.

Worldwide, the oaks known as Quercus spp. Consists of 275 to 500 species that can be separated into three groups based on their microanatomy: the evergreen oak, the red oak and the white oak. The word quercus is the classical Latin name of oaks, said to be derived from Celtic fine and tree.[4] The white oak is resistant to impregnation with preservatives used in this case for the outdoor hammock. Oak is widely distributed in Western and Central Europe; major sources of supply are France, Poland, Yugoslavia and the Baltic countries. It is the most common forest tree in Britain, especially in England. The deciduous oaks of North America produce timber similar to English oak. Oak was relied on for its strength, the proverbial “strong as an oak” testifies to its reputation. Carpenters preferred white oak for building floors of bridges, stables, wagons and warehouses.

Historical Background: Origins and Uses of Hammocks

Many scholars have associated the beginnings of the woven beds with the Mayan Indians in Central America,[5] theorizing that the trade routes extending between Central and South America explain how the hammock also became embedded into the culture of indigenous peoples in countries such as Brazil and Ecuador.[6] Significantly, many sources specify that the Arawak peoples of the West Indies developed the hammock. Brazilian anthropologist Luís da Câmara Cascudo, for instance, believes that the Arawaks invented the hammock and passed them on to the Tupi people, an indigenous group that inhabited the Brazilian Coast.[7] The Tupi’s use of the hammock was the first documented in Latin America. In illustrating the homes of the Tupiniquim peoples in 1500, the travelling knight Pêro Vaz de Caminha likened the hanging bed to a fishing net, referring to the hammock in Portuguese as "rede".[8] Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World in 1492, he was discovered hammocks through the Taino people, who inhabited the island of Hispaniola and were among the first groups encountered by the Europeans.[9] Known as hamaca in Spanish, the hammocks were woven from crude cotton or palm fibres. On the island of Yuma, renamed Fernandina by Columbus, the Spanish observed that

“…Under these tent-like roofs were nets made of cotton cord, stretched from one post to another, for beds. The Indians called these beds hamacs...”[10]

On another island which Columbus named Guadelupe, the Spanish similarly found hammocks used by the indigenous tribes,

“The men found the cabins much like those which Columbus had seen before- little thatched roofs, with hammocks strung from their posts…”[11]

And the use of hammocks in the Caribbean was recorded by Spanish historian Oviedo, as he wrote,

“The Indians sleep in a bed they call an “hamaca” which looks like a piece of cloth with both an open and tight weave, like a net...made of cotton."[12]

After Columbus introduced the invention to Europe, the hammock proved particularly useful as it could elevate people above insects, floodwaters, and rodents.[13] Around the end of the 16th century, hammocks were increasingly used in sailing ships.[14] In 1957, the Royal Navy began to build hammocks into their warships,[15] enabling seamen to sleep aboard the moving vessels without falling.

Historical Background: Cotton Production and the Slave Trade

The domestication of cotton and its subsequent use in textile production are intimately linked to the Atlantic slave trade. As the textile industry grew, largely in part to the industrial revolution, so too did the demand for cotton, and by the 1800s, cotton became one of the most widely grown crops in America due its major export earnings.[16] The demand for labor was high and in order to maximize profitability, plantation owners in the United States created slave workforces. The rapid expansion of cotton, along with other cash crops, were responsible for the increased need for slaves in America and subsequently strengthened the established slave trade across the Atlantic. It is estimated that until the 1840s, approximately one-third of all slaves in the United States worked in cotton fields.[17] Through advances in machinery, and the passage of anti-slavery laws, cotton farming relied less on slave labor in the 20th century. Today, cotton production and textile manufacturing are outsourced to countries where labor is cheap, such as China, India and Pakistan.[18]

Where Was the L.L. Bean Cotton Hammock Made?

Although the slave trade has ended, the exploits of cheap labor continue, allowing American companies to have their products made in developing countries for a fraction of the cost of an American production. The L.L. Bean Cotton Hammock was made for L.L. Bean by Hatteras Hammocks, and though it is the product of an American company, it is made in India. Its place of production was confirmed by an email from Hatteras Hammocks and a customer service representative for L.L. Bean, but no other information was available from either source. India's situation as a developing country with many low-income workers and a massive population has led to U.S. companies outsourcing jobs there to save money, instead of employing Americans. As a result, India has been criticized by the U.S. for benefiting from the outsourcing of American companies' jobs, but offering few trade incentives in return to the U.S.[19] However, some scholars argue that outsourcing to India benefits the American economy as well, and that increased outsourcing does not necessarily mean a decrease in service jobs available to American workers.[20]

  1. Karen Gerhardt Britton, Bale O' Cotton (Texas: University Press, 1992).
  2. Ibid.
  3. D.S. Hamby, The American Cotton Handbook (John Wiley and Sons Inc, 1965).
  4. Harry Alden, Hardwoods of North America (Madison: U.S. Department of Agriculture General Technical Report, 1995).
  5. David Fairley, "History of Hammocks," Ecomall, accessed July 17th 2012,
  6. Ibid.
  7. Gayle Waggoner Lopes, "Hammock" in Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture ed. Jay Kinsbruner et al. (Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2008), 636.
  8. Ibid, 341.
  9. 7 “Archaeologists find city ruins amid Caribbean isle's jungles,” Pantagraph, March 29, 1997, Final edition.
  10. 9 Elizabeth Eggleston Seelye, The story of Columbus, ed. Edward Eggleston, (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1892) 67.
  11. Ibid, 113.
  12. "1492, An Ongoing Voyage",
  13. Lopes, "Hammock", 636.
  14. Robert Southey, History of Brazil, (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme, 1810-19) 634.
  15. "The History of the Hammock," The Hammock Man, Accessed July 15th, 2012,
  16. “Black slaves laid strong base for US cotton economy,” Business Recorder, Aug. 17, 2011.
  17. “Cotton Industry,” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, ed. William A Darity, Jr. Vol. 2, 2nd ed. (Detroit: MacMillan Reference USA, 2008): 152.
  18. Business Recorder, 2011.
  19. Siddiqui, Anjum, eds., India and South Asia: Economic Development in the age of Globalization (Armonk, N.J.: M.E. Sharpe, 2007), xvii.
  20. Timothy Taylor, “In Defense of Outsourcing,” Cato Journal 25.2 (2005: 367-377).


“1492: An Ongoing Voyage.” Last modified July 2, 2010.

Alden, Harry. Hardwoods of North America. Madison: United States Department of Agriculture. General Technical Report. 1995.

“Archaeologists find city ruins amid Caribbean isle's jungles.”Pantagraph, March 29, 1997. Final edition.

“Black slaves laid strong base for US cotton economy,” Business Recorder, Aug. 17, 2011.

Britton, Karen Gerhardt. Bale o’ Cotton. Texas: University Press, 1992.

“Cotton Industry,” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, ed. William A. Darity, Jr. Vol. 2, 2nd ed. Detroit: MacMillan Reference USA, 2008. pp. 151-154.

Cotton: Origin, History, Technology, and Production, Eds. C. Wayne Smith and J. Tom Cothren, United States of America: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 1999.

Fairley, David. “History of Hammocks,” Ecomall. Accessed July 17, 2012.

Hamby, D. S. The American Cotton Handbook. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Volume one. Third Edition. 1965.

Lopes, Gayle Waggoner, "Hammock." In Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. Edited by Jay Kinsbruner and Erick D. Langer. 2nd ed. Vol. 3. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2008.

Seelye, Elizabeth Eggleston, The story of Columbus. ed. Edward Eggleston. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1892

Siddiqui, Anjum, eds., India and South Asia: Economic Developments in the Age of Globalization. Armonk, N.J.: M.E. Sharpe, 2007.

Southey, Robert . History of Brazil. London : Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1810-19.

Taylor, Timothy. "In Defense of Outsourcing". Cato Journal 25.2 (2005: 367-377).

“The History of the Hammock.” The Hammock Man. Accessed July 15, 2012.