A very brief history of wheeled luggage

At the session on Sustainable Innovation at last week’s Fortune Innovation Forum, William McDonough, the green architect and designer, said the following:

“Mankind isn’t so smart. It took us 5,000 years to put wheels on luggage.”

Which got me to thinking about the history of wheeled luggage, so here is the best history you can get on the subject based on a brief survey of the (internet-hosted) literature:

circa 1851: In “Moby-Dick,” Queequeg tells the story of strapping his seachest to a wheelbarrow but then, not knowing how to maneuver the barrow, gathers the whole assembly and carries it.

very early 1900’s: steamer trunks with two wheels are advertised.

1970’s: wheels appear on traditional suitcases; the sight of travelers pulling them by leashes and poorly balanced suitcases toppling over adds levity to the travel experience.

1989: Northwest Airlines pilot Bob Plath develops the roll-aboard suitcase for flight crews.

Today: wheels on everything. Soon we will be porting luggage at our front, back and sides, cocooned in storage, like Manhattanites walking their dogs.

(Picture: the TravelPro Crew5 series, via London Luggage)

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  • robert_bierman

    John:

    Thanks for the terrific coverage of the FORTUNE Innovation Forum — it’s been great to read about all of the things that even we miss!

    Best …

    Bob Bierman
    President
    FORTUNE Conferences

  • Dickie

    John, thought you might want to know that it was my father, D. Dudley Bloom, who came up with the idea for luggage on wheels in modern times. He joined Atlantic Luggage (then Atlantic Products, Inc.) in Trenton, New Jersey, early in 1957 as VP and Director of Marketing, after having started in marketing at Amsco Toys in Hatboro, PA. Sometime that year, he went to see the firm’s president, a man with the suggestive name of Ted Cart, and told him he thought Atlantic ought to put luggage on wheels. “Who’d want to buy luggage on wheels?” replied Cart. The idea was immediately dropped, and so it wasn’t until 1972 that the guy who founded US Luggage, Bernard Sadow, again came up with the idea, obtained a patent on April 4th of that year, and made consumer product history shortly thereafter.
    As a result, the whole story of Dad’s coming up with the idea has been obscured in the mists of business history.
    Sadow was still alive two years ago when I exchanged emails with him. He lives in Chappaqua, NY, where he is a neighbor of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

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