The History Of Rolling Luggage

June 17, 2010 by · 8 Comments 

They say Necessity is the mother of invention. That means Convenience must be the father.

Northwest Airlines pilot and Travelpro founder Bob Plath needed a easy way to transport his bags through busy airports. He invented one, the Rollaboard®, and became the father of rolling luggage.

Before Plath’s brainchild, all luggage was oriented horizontally. Everyone made do with heavy, inflexible suitcases with handles on top which had to be carried through airports. The only other option was a horizontal model featuring four small wheels and a strap for pulling, like a stubborn dog that collided with your heels when he was angry. But, the poor balance and ergonomics of these bags limited their appeal.

Then, in 1987, Bob Plath went into his garage and designed a vertical bag with two wheels and an extendable handle that he could roll through airports and carry on airplanes. He called his creation the Rollaboard® and was soon selling them to fellow pilots and flight attendants.

By 1989, when passengers began asking airline personnel where they could buy rolling suitcases, Plath moved his operation out of his garage and into a 185,000 square foot warehouse. By 1991, Plath had retired from Northwest Airlines and focused full-time on the device that changed travel in a number of fundamental ways:

Airport security procedures and equipment were standardized to accommodate the wildly popular rolling carry-on.

Over time, airlines reconfigured their fleets with overhead storage bins that could hold the new carry-ons.

The struggling luggage industry was revived as travelers replaced old horizontal luggage with the much easier-to-use Rollaboards. Travelpro enjoyed double-digit sales growth for nearly a decade after the introduction of the product and was one of the fastest growing private companies in America during the 90’s. The tourism industry also received a boost as travel was simplified for everyone, regardless of their conditioning or physical limitations.

Most people now pack far fewer items when they travel. If it doesn’t fit in the carry-on, it doesn’t go on the trip.

You don’t have to re-invent the wheel in order to revolutionize travel and positively impact the lives of millions of people worldwide. You just have to attach wheels to something, and voila!You’re a revolutionary.


8 Responses to “The History Of Rolling Luggage”
  1. Missed opportunity
    In 1965 I was 22 years old and took my first trip overseas from Alexandria, Egypt to West Germany for a summer training program for engineers. I worked in a trailers manufacturing facility in Wuppertal, Germany.
    On my way home I had a big suitcase full of gifts and it was very heavy and bulky. I wanted to travel in Europe before my return home. The idea of the trailers led me to put two roller bearings in a metal frame under the tail my suitcase and a rope on the nose of the suitcase. I pulled my suitcase throughout Europe, moving by train from country to another until I reached Venice Italy and boarded a ship to Alexandria, Egypt. The Steel roller bearing were making a racket of noise particularly as I was rolling in the train station where the floors were tiled with pimpled tiles. Everybody in the train stations and streets of Europe saw my wheeled suitcase and commented favorably on the design, it really worked very good…Unfortunately I was too young to even consider patent but I had a very pleasant and easy travel through Europe.

  2. Tim,

    Thanks for contributing to the article. There are 2 patents for built-in wheeled luggage. One was for Bob Plath’s design of the rollaboard that is the Travelpro mainstay, the other was for Bernard Sadow’s invention in the 1970s for built in wheels that were pulled using a leash.

    After reviewing the patent you referenced, it was for a luggage carriage. A device that would fit onto any bag for carriage.

    Now, prior to the rollaboard, you could buy wheels to roll your bag. Bob Plath’s patent addressed the issue by integrating the luggage cart into the bag as a permanent fixture making it easier for flight crews to get through the airport.

    His design is the standard for the majority of luggage today.

    Travelpro Luggage

  3. tim costikyan says:

    A belated followup to this article, but I just came across a patent for a design for rolling luggage from 1953 designed by none other than my father, Kent R Costikyan, patent #2,650,105. Are you kidding me! I think this deserves close inspection and possibly, a revision to the history of luggage with wheels.

  4. chenny says:

    From 1993, I have been watching this concept moving from luggage to backpacks, duffle bags, coolers, etc., I have been watching the great develpment after this invention in luggage industry.

  5. Another great by-product of the invention is the ability to mount a tote or business case over the extension handle so you can wheel two bags at once.

  6. The efficiency of rolling luggage has a good history. When I walk into an airport, it’s flooded with this simple invention to make the movement around an airport much easier. It makes travel in general a lot easier too, because instead of hobbling around with multiple travel bags hooked around your arms, you can take advantage of simply pulling the weight of travel items conveniently around with you.

  7. Mark, Below is a link to an interesting article on the Bob Plath invention from Inc magazine entitled ” The 14 Inventors We Love”

  8. Mark Gerst says:

    Great story! I remember talking to my friends back in the day thinking, “why didn’t I think of that?!”