We may think of the suitcase as a modern invention, though the need to carry belongings long distances goes back to the dawn of humanity. The modern suitcase was centuries in the making, and even the modern innovation of adding wheels to suitcases is credited to several inventors.

Early development and modern innovation

Prehistoric humans were nomadic, thus travel was a way of life. Otzi the Iceman, a prehistoric man whose mummified remains were discovered on the border between Italy and Austria, carried with him a wood-ribbed backpack that supported a leather bag. By the time of the Roman Empire, Roman citizens enjoyed tourism, using what may be considered the earliest suitcases. The modern suitcase took shape in the 19th century, usually made of thick cowhide treated with oil and stretched over a wooden frame. These may have been of even higher quality than modern suitcases, as they had to withstand harsh weather conditions through travel over unpaved roads.

Since the suitcase had already long been in use by the 20th century, more attention has been paid to the invention of the wheeled suitcase, which allowed travelers everywhere to take trips with more ease and independence. Bernard Sadow is given credit for developing the concept of the rolling suitcase in 1970. He was in an airport with no luggage attendant in sight when he is said to have spotted a man pushing equipment on a rolling cart. Yet an article in a 1913 copy of Lyceum Magazine describes Ali’s Manufacturing Company taking out an American patent on the wheeled suitcase. Sadow took out a patent in 1972 as well, yet it had been broken by competitors within a couple of years, CNN reported in 2010. While earlier rolling suitcases were more difficult to maneuver, Bob Plath of Northwest Airlines developed the smoother modern version in 1989, which he called the “Rollaboard” and sold through his company Travelpro.