Old Luggage at the Railway Station from the Steam Era

Luggage through the Years

No imagery better embodies the possibilities and romance of travel than a pile of old trunks stacked on a platform beside an old locomotive shrouded in a fog of smoke; or piled upon a cargo dock in the shadow of of an imposing ocean liner. Luggage from a time when travel truly was so often into the actual unknown. For many, few names better exemplify that romance than Louis Vuitton, whose own legend, fittingly, begins with the most arduous of journeys.


“Show me your luggage and I’ll tell you who you are.”
– Louis Vuitton advertising campaign, 1921


Vuitton was just 13 when he left his countryside home in the east of France for Paris. It took him two years to make the near 500km journey by foot. Arriving in 1837, the teenager secured an apprenticeship at a box-making company and soon established himself as one of the city’s most talented craftsmen. By the early 1850s, Vuitton was the personal box-maker and packer for Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife, Eugenie de Montijo, Empress of France. Vuitton eventually developed trunks made of canvas rather than leather, for added durability, before designing sharper rectangular shapes for easier stacking for transit.


Trunks — or chests — had been around in various forms for thousands of years, but with the industrial revolution came the first possibilities of mass travel. The baggage business boomed. The suitcase — essentially a streamlined trunk — was first thought up in the late 19th century but didn’t immediately catch on. However, just as steam powered travel had given the trunk a leg up, so the rise of the automobile called for a more manageable carry design. Then came air travel and with it the need for cases to become lighter and more manageable still. One tweak in particular, revolutionised the industry.


Having struggled through the airport with two heavy loads upon returning from a family holiday to Aruba, Bernard Sadow was finally afforded a break in line at customs. An airport worker then passed transporting a heavy machinery on wheels. The New York Times reports that Sadow turned to his wife and said, “You know, that’s what we need for luggage.”


Two years later Sadow was awarded United States patent No. 3,653,474, which stated: “Whereas formerly, luggage would be handled by porters and be loaded or unloaded at points convenient to the street, the large terminals of today, particularly air terminals, have increased the difficulty of baggage-handling… Baggage-handling has become perhaps the biggest single difficulty encountered by an air passenger.”


Sadow’s system — which relied on a strap up top and four small wheels at each corner of the longest, narrowest face below — was prone to tipping. Many men also saw the design as an affront to their strength and masculinity, causing early sales to stall. Fifteen years later, US jumbo-jet pilot Robert Plath invented the far more stable Rollaboard which enabled suitcases to be dragged by a solid handle, upright, and on two wheels. The design which still dominates today.


Writing for Smithsonian, Daniel A. Gross notes the irony that after a “century of revolution in transportation” today’s suitcase proportions resemble “almost the same shape” as those “unwieldy” trunks. “Just as we might pack and re-pack our belongings to fit our luggage,” he concludes, “we make and re-make our luggage to fit our built world.”


Excess Baggage


Things have come a long way since the humble trunk…


The Floatti is one high-tech suitcase, the first in the world, in fact, to incorporate all manner of smart features such as suspension engineering for a smoother ride. Crafted from high-end leather with a scratch-resistant coating, its handle sports a charging dock, built-in scale, tracking system and alarm. You can even use it to control your phone.


While most luggage is all about looking good, Crash Baggage is more about the quirky—and practical. ‘Handle Without Care’ goes their clever catchphrase, for these bags are already essentially damaged goods. Or at least look that way. The pre-dented designs are actually crafted from highly durable materials, protecting both bag and contents, leaving you to get on with getting on with your trip, worry-free.


Luggage that follows you around like your very own R2D2—or puppy—Cowarobot R1 will not only roll merrily along at your heel but, thanks to the magic of an app and GPS, can even find you from 50m away. Crafted from polycarbonate, it’s so well made that it’s nigh-on topple proof, knows to avoid stairs, has an-in built alarm and can travel at the pace of a jog. Because regular cases are just such a drag.



Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces