OHIO MATTRESS CO. - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
OHIO MATTRESS CO. currently operates as the Sealy Corp. and produces the popular Sealy Posturepedic and Stearns and Foster brand mattresses. Ohio Mattress was founded in in 1907 by Morris Wuliger, a Hungarian immigrant who settled in Cleveland in 1890 and previously worked as a grocer. At the insistence of a friend, Wuliger began making mattresses and established his first plant on E. 55th St., before moving operations to Cedar Ave. the following decade. The company was incorporated in 1933, and about this time established headquarters on E. 37th St. The company moved to Medina in 1964 when their E. 37th St. property was acquired for construction of I-77.
In 1924, Ohio Mattress Co. was one of the first companies to purchase a license to manufacture bedding under the Sealy brand. Sealy, a company originally founded in Sealy, TX in 1881, gained status as a national brand through advertisements in The Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal. The Ohio Mattress Co. grew with the Sealy Brand and the company soon became the largest independent licensee producing Sealy brand bedding in the U.S., with annual sales of reaching nearly $300 million by 1986. Following the death of his father, Frank Wuliger, in 1963, Ernest M. Wuliger became head of the company and during this third-generation of family control, Ohio Mattress underwent the most aggressive phase of its growth. The company reestablished a presence in Cleveland in the late 1970s, locating its offices in the downtown area. In 1983 the company purchased the premium brand Stearns and Foster and expanded into the waterbed industry.
Ohio Mattress Co.'s plans for expansion began in earnest in the mid-1950s, leading to rapid growth and, ultimately, conflict with Sealy. In 1956, Ohio Mattress made the first in a series of purchases of Sealy licensees, first in Houston, but soon followed up with acquisitions in Puerto Rico, Fort Worth, Boston, and Atlanta. Frustrated with what he felt were deliberate efforts to block further expansion, Ernest Wuliger's Ohio Mattress Co. filed an antitrust suit against Sealy in 1971. The long and complex case was finally resolved in 1986 when a favorable ruling awarded $77 million in damages to Ohio Mattress. Wuliger then used the settlement to purchase Sealy, gaining all but one (in Paterson, NJ) of Sealy's licensees. Prior to the takeover in 1987, Ohio mattress had 40 employees in Cleveland (compared with Sealy's 120 in Chicago headquarters) and $297 million in annual sales. The merger more than doubled this figure to $661.5 million and established Ohio Mattress as the world's largest bedding manufacturer in the world. With 30% of the bedding market in the United States-compared with the 11% share of its closest competitor (Atlanta-based Simmons)-and strong recognition of Ohio Mattress's brands, the company received indication from other firms interested in acquiring the bedding giant. In 1988, citing this, strong interest, Wuliger announced that the company was up for sale. In 1989, Ohio Mattress was sold to New York-based merchant bank Gibbons, Green, Van Amerongen for $940 million. Although analysts cited the strength of the Sealy and Stearns and Foster Brands along with the company's impressive 18% annual growth rate since 1984, many thought the purchase price was too high. Complicating the issue, a depressed junk-bond market made financing difficult and the company changed hands several times over the next decade. Soon after the sale, Wuliger, who held a 19% share in Ohio Mattress, left the company he helped build and, after a brief attempt to acquire Stearns and Foster from Ohio Mattress for $87 million in 1989, went into retirement in SHAKER HEIGHTS. He died in 1992.
The 1990s brought a flurry of changes at Ohio Mattress. In 1990, the Ohio Mattress name was dropped in favor of the Sealy name. Also that year, ownership transferred to First Boston, only to be sold again to the Zell/Chilmark Fund of Chicago in 1993, who gained a 94% interest in Sealy Corp. for $250 million. In 1995, Sealy executives aborted an attempt to become a publicly-traded company and eventually the company was sold in 1997 to Boston-based Bain Capital. Prior to the sale, Ronald L. Jones of High Point, NC, became president and chief executive and in 1998 announced that Sealy would be moving its headquarters from Cleveland to High Point. The new headquarters would consolidate office space and a manufacturing facility on its 68 acres campus in the heart of North Carolina's furniture making center. In 2004, Sealy Corp., still the world's largest bedding maker, was acquired by Kohlberg, Kravis, Robert, & Co. for $1.5 billion.