Timeline: How Mattress Mack evolved from failed entrepreneur to Houston celebrity


Before he was the Houston furniture tycoon known as Mattress Mack, Jim McIngvale was a divorced, failed entrepreneur crashing with relatives in Dallas. So how did he become a millionaire TV legend whose commercials are forever chiseled in the memory of longtime Houstonians?

Here’s a look at McIngvale’s rise to Houston celebrity status, from his birth in small-town Mississippi to his move to the Bayou City more than 40 years ago when he had just a few thousand dollars to his name.

Be sure to check out the Houston Chronicle’s new narrative portrait of McIngvale, explore some lesser-known moments from his career and peruse his wide ranging political donations.

February 1951


James McIngvale is born Feb. 11, 1951, to George and Angela McIngvale in Starkville, Mississippi. His family moves to Dallas where he will spend his early adulthood.

Jim McIngvale as a child. Love Advertising



McIngvale attends Bishop Lynch High School where he plays football and baseball all four years, and secures a scholarship to play at the University of Texas. He later transfers to the University of North Texas but never completes his degree. Decades later, he is awarded an honorary degree from UNT.

Jim McIngvale’s senior photo in the 1969 Bishop Lynch High School yearbook. Elizabeth Conley/Staff photographer



After just three years of marriage, McIngvale’s first wife, a trailblazing Olympic diver from Houston named Cynthia Potter, files for divorce. That same year, the chain of Nautilus health clubs he’s been running — that his father bankrolled — fails.

Cynthia Potter photographed at the Houston Shamrock Hilton pool in 1968.  Darrell Davidson/Houston Chronicle

May 1981


McIngvale is fired from his job at a convenience store for having an attitude problem. He discovers his affinity for furniture sales and moves to Houston with his new wife, Linda.

With just $5,000 to his name, McIngvale opens Gallery Furniture’s first store in May 1981 at an empty, weedy abandoned model home park on the North Freeway. McIngvale and Linda sleep there sometimes to guard the furniture they did not have insurance on. Linda makes the first sale.

Gallery Furniture’s Jim McIngvale poses in his showroom on Aug. 12, 1986 Buster Dean/Houston Chronicle

March 1983


McIngvale rents time in a local television studio to film the first of many wacky Gallery commercials. Gallery is facing financial hardship due to the 1982 oil glut. He is down to his last $10,000 when he gambles it all on his first “SAVE YOU MONEYYY” spot that solidifies his reputation and begins his rise to a Houston TV icon.

McIngvale later says that those first commercials helped save his business. Within five years, he adopts an aggressive marketing strategy that calls for 600 radio and television spots a week.

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McIngvale discusses an array of his ads over the years. Courtesy Gallery Furniture/Elizabeth Conley/Staff photographer

September 1989


McIngvale considers putting his name in for Houston City Council with the ultimate goal of preparing himself for a bid for mayor. He scraps the idea when he learns his home is outside Houston city limits.



McIngvale becomes a minority owner of the failed Sam Houston Race Park in northwest Houston. A year later, he sues the lawyer who encouraged him to invest in the park for $1.5 million, according to court records. The case ends in a confidential settlement. 

He becomes a major investor in horseracing, spending millions buying and training thoroughbreds for some of the biggest events in the country. McIngvale struggles to maintain trainers, according to reports.

January 1994


The Better Business Bureau of Greater Houston and South Texas ousts McIngvale, citing a Houston Chronicle ad that suggested competitors sold shoddy furniture. McIngvale says the ads were not deceptive.

McIngvale would later say that both he and the BBB shared blame for the episode. Gallery rejoined the BBB in 2013 and held an A+ rating; currently, Gallery is not accredited.



McIngvale offers to build a training center for the Houston Rockets at his Westside Tennis Club in 1996. (The Houston Rockets had previously practiced at Ball High School and Texas A&M’s Mitchell Campus in Galveston.) The Westside facility comes with designer weight rooms, locker rooms and lounges. The players and their families are invited to use the club’s restaurant, tennis courts and nursery.

Former Rockets player Yao Ming (L), stretches with teammate Steve Francis (R) at a team practice at Westside Tennis Club in Houston, October 2002. James Nielsen/Getty Images

December 2000


The Astrodome hosts the first galleryfurniture.com college bowl with teams from the Big 12 Conference and Conference USA. The event puts Houston back on the NCAA football map and breathes new life into the Astrodome. McIngvale’s vision is for the bowl to be one of the best in the county. He tells the Chronicle the event is “a good marketing opportunity.” It lasts for two years before fizzling out.

McIngvale poses in 2000 with his team portrait from his days playing football for The University of Texas team that won the national championship in 1970. Ben DeSoto/Houston Chronicle

March 2003


The International Tennis Hall of Fame presents McIngvale and Houston with the Tennis City of the Year award. McIngvale’s state-of-the-art Westside Tennis Club helps elevate Houston, becoming the home of the U.S. Men’s Championships and Masters Cup for several years.

Andre Agassi accepts the runner up trophy for the 2003 Masters Cup from Jim McIngvale after losing to Roger Federer at the Westside club. File photo

January 2005


Former President George H.W. Bush and McIngvale pledge to raise $100 million to aid victims of the 2004 earthquake and tsunami that caused hundreds of thousands of fatalities across south Asia. McIngvale leads the local effort the following year, starting with a $250,000 donation.

Later that year, he opens his showroom to people fleeing the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina. He chairs a local relief fund launched by former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and delivers furniture to 5,000 people who sought refuge following Katrina.

Former President George Bush announces a major local tsunami fundraising effort involving Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, right, and his wife Linda McIngvale in Houston Jan. 5, 2005. Andrew Innerarity/Houston Chronicle

March 2009


After operating for 28 years in one location, McIngvale opens his second store off Post Oak near the Galleria.

McIngvale poses for a portrait in Gallery’s new store near Post Oak and Westheimer March 13, 2009, in Houston. James Nielsen

May 2009


The warehouse at McIngvale’s flagship store goes up in flames, causing $20 million in damage. It takes firefighters nearly three hours to extinguish the four-alarm fire. A disgruntled employee is charged with arson and spends years in state custody and mental health units while awaiting trial. He is ultimately declared incompetent to stand trial.

Jim McIngvale walks out of the his store and into the damaged warehouse after it was nearly destroyed in a four-alarm fire, June 4, 2009. Mayra Beltran/Houston Chronicle

August 2013


McIngvale undergoes surgery for a patent foramen ovale, or PFO, which is essentially a hole in the heart. He goes on to fund research toward the development of the first permanent artificial heart.

McIngvale, flanked by surgeons O.H. “Bud” Frazier, left, and Hari R. Mallidi at St. Luke’s Hospital, donated $2.1 million to the Texas Heart Institute to bring Australian inventor Daniel Timms and his revolutionary artificial heart to Houston.
Mayra Beltran/Houston Chronicle

February 2014


McIngvale places his first huge sports bet linked to customers at his store. He offers a full refund on up to $6,000 of furniture if the Seattle Seahawks win the Super Bowl. The Seahawks beat Denver, 43-8. The bet costs him $7 million.

June 2014


McIngvale breaks ground on a new 165,000-square-foot store on West Grand Parkway South in Richmond, southwest of Houston. The store opens a year later and boasts a restaurant, aquarium and atrium that houses exotic birds and a family of capuchin monkeys. (The animals will later be removed.)

Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony held for the third and largest Gallery Furniture store to be built in Richmond on June 3, 2014. Alan Warren/Houston Chronicle

April 2015


McIngvale moderates Donald Trump’s first 2016 speaking engagement in Texas, seven months before the New York Republican is elected president. In his remarks at The Woodlands High School event, McIngvale offers to send Trump a mattress. In 2023, he will make good on this promise.

August 2017


McIngvale keeps his stores open 24 hours and offers them as shelter for hundreds of people displaced by Hurricane Harvey. He offers food and beds on site and dispatches company trucks to assist in high-water rescues around the city.

Two years after the record-breaking hurricane, Gov. Greg Abbott signs several disaster relief acts, including two aimed at Hurricane Harvey aid, at Gallery Furniture’s flagship store.

Tomng Vu holds her 1-year-old granddaughter, Fatima, in a display chair at Gallery Furniture on Aug. 28, 2017 in Houston. Her family and around 200 area residents took shelter at the store after their homes flooded.
Elizabeth Conley/Staff photographer

November 2019


McIngvale announces he will open two schools and a daycare inside the Gallery Furniture flagship store. The plans call for one trade school and a charter campus for young adults ages 16 to 26 who don’t have high school diplomas. Students enrolled in the trade school or charter campus can send their children to Gallery’s daycare program.

“I want to leave a legacy for myself and my wife, and not just be a couple of people who made a lot of money,” McIngvale tells the Houston Chronicle.

Premier High School located on the property of Gallery Furniture, photographed on March 23, 2023 in Houston. Elizabeth Conley/Staff photographer

April 2020


When public figures in Texas begin taking sides in the early days of the global coronavirus pandemic, McIngvale takes a stand for reopening shuttered businesses. Gov. Greg Abbott, who champions reopenings, names McIngvale to a special advisory position on his Strike Force to Open Texas. The council’s aim is to rally professionals and civic leaders around reopening businesses.

Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale talks with Mayor Sylvester Turner at Gallery Furniture, where he was supervising packaged care packages for senior citizens, Sunday, April 26, 2020. Karen Warren/Staff photographer

February 2021


McIngvale opens his main showroom to victims of the deadly winter freeze that leaves hundreds of thousands of Texans in the dark for days and without heat and potable water.

People gather at Gallery Furniture’s warming shelter on Feb. 16, 2021 in Houston. Brett Coomer/Staff photographer

March 2021


McIngvale makes a plea in the Houston Chronicle for Texas lawmakers to legalize sports wagering to “keep Texas dollars in Texas.” Two years later, he reverses his stance.

“My change of heart is that I know myself and I’ve seen the light as far as impulsiveness on me to sports gambling,” McIngvale tells the Chronicle. “Because I’ve got to drive to Louisiana, it limits those impulses by a factor of 1,000. So I’m not in favor of sports gambling in Texas.”

Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale holds his betting slips after betting $2 million on the Cowboys to beat the 49ers in the NFL playoffs on Jan. 22, 2023. McIngvale lost his bet. Caesars Sportsbook

April 2021


McIngvale is sued on charges he ripped off an immersive art business, The FOMO Factory in the Galleria, by using the same artist FOMO hired to create installations aimed at attracting customers to his stores. The lawsuit says that McIngvale stole ideas copyrighted by FOMO founder Rachel Youens. The alleged infringment had a “deep and overwhelming effect” on Rachel, according to allegations in the complaint. She died weeks later by suicide.

Gallery Furniture denies any wrongdoing, and has moved to have the case dismissed. The suit is ongoing.

“This was a sad end to a pretty creative girl’s life,” Rachel’s father, Robert Youens, said.

Robert and Deborah Youens hold a photo of their daughter Rachel outside their Austin home on March 22, 2023. Elizabeth Conley/Staff photographer

January 2022


McIngvale publicly endorses Republican candidate and former Army Capt. Alexandra del Moral Mealer for Harris County Judge in her campaign to unseat Lina Hidalgo. He shares the announcement in a widely publicized ad with Mealer, where he calls her a friend and says she’ll be “tough on crime.”

Mealer loses her bid for county judge. She files a challenge to the election on Jan. 6, 2023, two years to the date of the violent insurrection by Donald Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol. The lawsuit is still pending.

McIngvale and Mealer make an ad in support of the Republican’s candidacy for Harris County Judge. Twitter screenshot

November 2022


McIngvale is captured on camera arguing with Phillies fans after an Astros World Series game in Philadelphia. McIngvale tells the Houston Chronicle he was defending Astros player Jose Altuve after a man called him “the biggest cheater ever.”

“My blood pressure got a little high but that’s alright, I lived through it,” he says. “I will always take up the Houston Astros.”

McIngvale’s reaction is lauded by Houstonians and someone turns McIngvale into a mega-hit meme dubbed “Gangster Mack.”

Fans with Mattress Mack drawings watch the float with the trophy pass by during the Houston Astros World Series parade downtown on Nov. 7, 2022, in Houston.

Karen Warren/Staff photographer

November 2022


McIngvale collects a $75 million payout after betting $10 million on the Houston Astros to win the World Series. It marked the largest win ever through a legal sportsbook in the United States. Gallery Furniture customers who bet on the home team received double their money back on their Gallery Furniture purchase.

McIngvale collects his winnings for the Astros winning the World Series on Nov. 10, 2022, at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Caesars Sports

February 13, 2023


McIngvale sues the Harris County Elections Administrator’s office saying it failed to turn over public records related to the November 2022 election. A week later, he launches a website called Hard to Vote to try to gather evidence of voter disenfranchisement. The case is pending. In April, Mack showed up at the Texas State Capitol to press his points with lawmakers and the media.

Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale and Wayne Dolcefino, president of Dolcefino Consulting, address the media outside the Texas State Capitol on April 18, 2023, in Austin. Elizabeth Conley/Staff photographer

March 2023


As the season opens, McIngvale bets $1.9 million on the Houston Astros to win the 2023 World Series. If the team wins, McIngvale will make over $11 million and Houstonians who spend $5,000 on furniture at Gallery will receive a full refund for their purchases.

Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale smiles after the Houston Astros won the World Series over the Philadelphia Phillies at Minute Maid Park on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in Houston. Brett Coomer/Staff photographer

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