There have been many people who have indelibly changed the face of travel. Sure you can point to the Wright Brothers, famous Explorers such as Christopher Columbus or Magellan and maybe even visionaries like Howard Hughes or Sir Richard Branson, but this article is about the person who perhaps more than anyone else has improved your personal travel experience. And I bet, you’ve never even heard of him.
His name is Bernard D. Sadow and he essentially invented the idea of putting wheels on luggage. In 1970 Bernard (our Hero) was a VP at the United States Luggage Corporation (now Briggs & Riley Travelware) and had his stroke of brilliance in a moment of weakness at the end of a family vacation. While standing in the Customs line at the airport in Aruba after carrying 2 heavy suitcases through the terminal, Bernard noticed a worker rolling a heavy piece of equipment effortlessly on a skid. The light bulb went on, the inventor’s cap came out and wheeled luggage was born. He has the patent (and presumably the millions) to prove it.
Of course because this isn’t a Hollywood movie and things didn’t change overnight for flyers. The industry was slow to adapt, travelers weren’t sure what to make of these cases and the bags weren’t exactly a hit. But Sadow was able to eventually convince Macy’s to take on the product and with a savvy advertising campaign for “The Luggage That Glides” the bag’s sales and our eternal debt of gratitude to Sadow began to grow.
However rolling suitcases didn’t really take off for many more years until 1987 when another intrepid inventor Robert Plath, a 747 Pilot for Northwest Airlines, invented what we now called the Rollaboard. Tinkering in his garage in Boca Raton, Fl, Path fashioned a compact carry-on bag with wheels. He started out by selling the luggage to his fellow crew members and Travelpro the luggage giant was born. Plath sold his shares in Travelpro in 1991 but not before creating a revolution in air travel.
Today Rollaboards or rollerboards as they are often generically referred to, are a staple for almost every elite traveler. Gone are the days of garment bags, steamer trunks and suitcases without wheels. Today small is beautiful, carry-on is a must and there’s simply no room for large, heavy and expensive to check bags. But we have to remember that it wasn’t always this way
There is one other person who should receive an honorable mention in the on-going story of man’s quest to take the lug out of luggage and that’s D. Dudley Bloom. In 1958 Bloom worked in marketing and product management at the Atlantic Products Corporation (now Atlantic Luggage Company) and he proposed the idea of luggage that could be pulled on wheels. Unfortunately the company’s Chairman rejected at the idea by retorting “Who’d want to buy luggage on wheels?” It reminds us of all the music executives who passed on the Beatles because they thought guitar bands were going out of style.
Fortunately for those of us who spend more time in airport terminals than out own homes men like Sadow, Plath and Bloom had revolutionary ideas. The next time you’re racing through a terminal with a wheeled bag in town take a moment to think about the great contribution these men made to your travel experience.