Flying, Travel

The History of Luggage

I hate carrying things. Holding a briefcase, laptop bag, luggage, even a cell phone in my hand drives me nuts. I don’t even like carrying around a go-cup of coffee. I’d rather take the time to sit down and drink my nectar-of-the-gods while others risk spilling their venti, half-caf, half-decaf soy latte over their white blouses and shirts. Regular readers know we prefer checking our bags; hauling a carry-on around the airport gives me hives. My dream trip still involves us going to the airport with nothing but the clothes on our backs, our passports, and an American Express card, pointing to the departure board and saying, “let’s go THERE!” We’ll get what we need at the other end.

Baggage claims are clearly marked … and keep you hands free.

All of which means I’ve had a love-hate relationship with luggage over the years. It got me thinking about how we got to this place where people queue-up at the gate, jockeying for position just to ensure they have space for their overloaded carry-ons. So, as an armchair historian, I started my research.

Vintage luggage looks very different than the luggage of today.

It turns out, the evolution of luggage traces its history to the advances in transportation over that last 150 years or so. When ships were the primary source of transportation, steamer trunks held the possessions of those who could afford to travel. Large, bulky and waterproof, their wealthy owners cared little about portability. Servants and porters took care of transporting these items up the gangplank from their carriages to their staterooms.

Steamer trunks were common a hundred years ago.

The advent of the railroad began to make portability an issue, as did the popularization of the automobile in the early 20th century. This is when suitcases first became popular. Air travel further opened opportunities for mass travel, but even through the 1970s, the concept of a carry-on was foolhardy. Look at vintage ads from the jet-age and you’ll see that mere hat and coat racks adorned the area above the spacious seats. Oh, how I long for those days!

Stuffed overhead bins make carry-ons a challenge.

Airline deregulation further opened air travel to the masses, and as security needs increased, longer lines and distances between car parks and gates meant wheels became a necessity; longer waits in baggage claim (and moves by the airlines to increase revenue by charging for checked bags) led to the increased use of carry ons and the invention of the ubiquitous rollaboard with its unintended consequences.

The luggage you use will ultimately be based on your travel “mission” and your style. Judy and I have honed in on a few pieces each, the use of which varies by our mode of transportation. On our recent road trip, the leather weekender duffle bags we bought from Levenger (unfortunately, no longer available) were just the ticket, fitting perfectly in the tight trunk space available. We have some medium- and larger-sized “spinners” for air travel (which we always check); sometimes we’ll fit all our stuff into one, just for simplicity. Judy carries a slightly large purse when she travels by air to carry some of the accoutrements needed for a long flight (she, too, abhors carrying large bags that can weigh you down and get in the way of fellow travelers). We both avoid carrying laptops whenever possible (that’s what smartphones are for); backpacks and bookbags are for college students. As for me, if it doesn’t fit in my pockets …

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. When you go see it, make sure you’ve got the right bag for your stuff and which fits the way YOU want to travel.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020 — Unless otherwise indicated, no compensation was received for this blog.

Resources and Additional Reading:

Gross, D. A. (2014) The History of the Humble Suitcase, Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/history-humble-suitcase-180951376/ (Accessed Aug. 16, 2020)

Martín, H. (2019), Airlines supersize overhead bins — but don’t want you to use them  Los Angeles Times ttps://www.latimes.com/business/story/2019-07-31/airlines-add-bigger-luggage-bins (Accessed Aug. 16, 2020)

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