The Evolution of Luggage: From Trunks to Roller Bags
12 artifacts in this set
In the 19th century, travel was uncommon and usually uncomfortable. People who did travel used heavy trunks to carry a great number of possessions, usually by stagecoach, rail or via ship. The traveler didn't usually handle his or her luggage, porters did all the work.
As late as 1939, railway express companies transferred heavy trunks to and from the railway depot.
Captain Milton Russell used this typical 19th century American trunk during the Civil War. Officers like Russell were allotted baggage space on military wagons – but they had to supply their own trunk, labeled with their name, rank, and unit. It would have carried Russell’s important papers, a medical kit, and other necessary items for use in the battlefield.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, passengers on ocean-going vessels used "steamer trunks" to hold just about everything they needed during the trip. It was literally a closet in a box. Wealthier passengers like Harvey Firestone, president of Firestone Rubber Company, brought several steamer trunks on board for specific purposes, including this example used to hold important papers.
With the rise of automobile travel, more people had access to travel and suitcases (as we know them) were mass produced in a variety of qualities and prices. Much easier to manage than steamer trunks, they were made to fit into a car trunk.
Made by the Oshkosh Suitcase Co. of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the Chief Oshkosh brand suitcase was the quintessential mid-level suitcase made during the early 20th century. This example was part of a larger set of luggage that belonged to Elizabeth Parke Firestone.
During the early years of passenger air travel, flying was expensive, limited to the wealthy, and considered an adventure. Also, passengers were limited to lighter-weight bags due to weight restrictions – note the stylishly-dressed passengers with simple, yet elegant luggage in this photograph.
Famed aviator Amelia Earhart licensed her own line of luggage beginning in 1933. Marketed as "real 'aeroplane' luggage," it was lightweight and made to last, appealing to those who aspired to fly. The luggage sold well for decades – long after her 1937 disappearance attempting an around-the-world flight.
By the 1960s, Americans bought luggage in colorful sets mass produced by companies like American Tourister and Samsonite. These companies touted their product’s fashion and durability. The stylish lady in this advertisement sits on an old-fashioned trunk while an array of contemporary luggage is at her feet, waiting for the porters to remove it.
Airline deregulation in the 1980s and 1990s created an explosive growth in air travel. As airports grew in size to accommodate more flights, most travelers raced through expansive concourses carrying their own luggage. Roller bags created in the late 1980s provided relief.
Today, flight crews are in constant motion, moving from plane to plane. In addition to roller bags, flight attendants carry extremely light bags containing personal and readily accessible items. This American Airlines tote bag was used by a flight attendant in the 1990s.