When packing your bags for your next vacation, you might pause and ask yourself: how did this little piece of baggage come to be? Well, when looking through the history, you’ll see that the shape and make of our luggage has evolved alongside our modes of travel.
Travel hasn’t always been as easy as an online purchase and an at-home check-in. The earliest-known wheeled luggage appeared in 1153, during the Crusades, used to wheel around the knights’ tools and armor through their long, land-based expeditions.
The word “luggage” comes from the verb “to lug,” which means to drag or carry something heavy. As a noun denoting one’s things, “baggage,” it’s been in use for hundreds of years. It even appears in Shakespeare’s Henry IV:
PRINCE HENRY: This is the strangest fellow, brother John.
Come, bring your luggage nobly on your back:
For my part, if a lie may do thee grace,
I’ll gild it with the happiest terms I have.
With the cross-country use of stagecoaches, luggage came in the form of trunks, which had to be sturdy to survive their journeys. Then the Industrial Revolution hit and with it came the invention of the steamship, which allowed for easier international travel.
Steamer trunks were designed for steamships travel. So they wouldn’t slide around or be crushed by other heavy trunks, they were made of wood and leather, and had a heavy iron base. They were also made to be waterproof.
At this point in time, the heavy luggage wasn’t a concern, because travel was only possible for the wealthy, who could afford hired hands.
As more and more inventions churned out at rapid speed, luggage had to adapt to the spread of more affordable transportation. Now, travel wasn’t just available for the super wealthy, but for those in the middle class as well. Thus, the suitcase was born.
Designed to be stackable and transportable, it was literally just as the name said, a case for suits. A typical suitcase came had an inside sleeve for shirts and garters, and even a hat box on the side. For women, the upright portable wardrobe was popular.
Airplanes and Automobiles
Now fast-forward to the modern era. Interstates line the country and airplanes allow for border-to-border, overnight transportation.
Today, the ease of airline travel has made luggage design remain tightly linked to carryon baggage restrictions, with practically every luggage manufactured to be lightweight and easy for the single rider to carry. These suitcases tend to be vertical instead of horizontal, because of their wheels, and relatively stout and thick, because of airline restrictions on suitcase dimensions.
As our luggage gets sent all around the world, it’s no surprise the bags don’t always make it to their destinations. There were 1.92 million total mishandled-baggage reports in 2015.
But no matter where your bag ends up, you can now look at your wheeled, plastic suitcase and think of the hundreds of years of prototypes that came before it.