Luggage + Wheels

Posted by Remo Giuffré on


Why did something so obvious take so long to come to our rescue?

It’s hard to imagine a world where luggage didn’t have wheels. However, those of us of a certain age will remember when that wasn’t universally the case.

Rolling luggage is a mysteriously recent invention. Indeed, while the world was celebrating man’s first steps on the moon in 1969, people were still schlepping big suitcases around by their handles.

So, why did something so obvious take so long to come to our rescue? It’s not like we had to reinvent the wheel. We just had to attach that wheel to something else.

Maybe it was due to a need becoming more pronounced as more and more people started to travel, more of those travellers were women, and airports became bigger and more sprawling.

In 1970 Bernard D Sadow, the vice president of a Massachusetts luggage company, had what turned out to be a eureka moment. Struggling with two heavy suitcases on his way home from a family holiday in Aruba, he noticed at customs how an airport worker could move a heavy piece of machinery on a wheeled pallet almost effortlessly. According to an account in the New York Times by Joe Sharkey, published 40 years later, Sadow told his wife, "You know, that's what we need for luggage", and on his return to work took the casters from a wardrobe trunk and mounted them on a big suitcase, with a pulling strap attached at the front.

Two years later Sadow's innovation was registered as US patent number 3,653,474: "Rolling Luggage", with a statement that pointed to air travel as its inspiration. "Whereas formerly, luggage would be handled by porters and be loaded or unloaded at points convenient to the street, the large terminals of today … have increased the difficulty of baggage-handling [which] has become perhaps the biggest single difficulty encountered by an air passenger."

Still, rolling luggage was slow to catch on.

“People do not accept change well,” Mr. Sadow said, recalling the many months he spent rolling his prototype bag on sales calls to department stores in New York and elsewhere. Finally, though, Macy’s ordered some, and the market grew quickly as Macy’s ads began promoting “The Luggage That Glides.”

Finally, this wouldn’t be an invention story, without a competing claim and some controversy. Back in 1954 a Polish artist and serial inventor Alfred Joseph Krupa may have actually created the first suitcase on wheels. He didn’t pursue it … but a white singletted Alfred with his bag does make for a nice image.

Can you think of any other seemingly obvious innovations that, for whatever reason, just haven’t yet emerged? Maybe just start with a wheel, and think of something new that you can attach it to.


Wikipedia Reference: Suitcase | (Text) CC BY-SA


1. Traveler by ProSymbols from the Noun Project
2. Luggage on Wheels
3. Old School
4. Woman Schlepping Trunks. Photograph: Ann Ward/Associated Newspapers/Rex
5. Bernard D Sadow & His Patent
6. Courtest Briggs & Riley
7. Alfred Joseph Krupa with Suitcase
8.  Alfred Joseph Krupa
9. Reinvented Wheels

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  • First trip to Japan we schlepped large backpackish travel bags…mostly without too much argy bargy but enough to say when the next trip (and erstwhile dislocated shoulder) rolled around a couple of years later, I was off to get something, (anything!) with wheels. Husband who seemed to be satisfied enduring the hard road, happily purchased same, without noticing my raised eyebrow. Ahh maybe all my previous swearing underbreath was noticed!
    Re wheels …i am drawn to those little platforms with wheels for moving large objects/eg potplants…and the apple crates with wheels for moveable gardens.

    And of course those planks-with-wheels now affording freedom to girls (including one of my own, a long-boarding enthusiast) all over the place! (pre covid!) Not quite as accessible or as liberating as the bicycle but just as much fun!

    Vicki on

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