Ever wonder why it took so long for luggage companies to add wheels? Younger readers don’t remember that suitcases and trunks weren’t always wheeled. Man went to the moon before wheels were added to luggage. The first patent for wheeled luggage was granted in 1972. It was 1989 when a pilot for Northwest airlines first used a wheeled suitcase. However, it wasn’t until 1994 when a man named Don Ku received the patent for the telescopic handle.
Vintage suitcases are now sought-after home decor items. They look great stacked in multiples and used for storage rather than toted on trips.
Back in the day, travelers relied on porters to help them with their bags, but tip-driven baggage carriers have gone the way of travel stickers and hatboxes. They have become a quaint reminder of a more elegant era of travel.
In the late 1970s, four young friends with whom I worked at Joseph Magnin and I went to San Francisco from Lake Tahoe. I drove my new Dodge Omni, one of the first front-wheel-drive cars. One of the gals was married to some bigwig at Kirk Kerkorian’s Cal-Neva hotel casino in Crystal Bay, Nevada. Through her husband’s connections we were given complimentary rooms at the famed, Julia Morgan-designed Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill. Morgan was most famous for having been the architect who, along with her client, William Randolph Hearst, designed Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California.
It was the Friday after Thanksgiving, and I drove through a blizzard over Donner Summit. Cal-Trans chain control was checking cars when I rolled through. It took a while for them to realize that I did indeed have a reason for the snow tires being on the front wheels in stead of the back ones.
Normally a 4-hour drive to San Francisco, after six hours we hadn’t yet reached Sacramento. The ladies were famished and decided to dashboard dine. They were sharing a bottle of wine and snacks (I was not drinking.) During the trip, a link from a snow chain was launched backward by a truck in front of us and hit my windshield. The subsequent movement of the wipers for the remaining descent, caused a diagonal crack in the glass. By the time we arrived at valet parking of the world-renowned San Francisco Fairmont Hotel, my new Omni was covered with mud, the ladies were three sheets to the wind, the windshield was nearly in two pieces, and the interior now harbored empty wine bottles and trash. Our intention was to make a grand entrance. However, at best, we looked like the Beverly Hillbillies. The bellmen swarmed the car to schlep our luggage. Remember: at that time, none of the baggage had wheels. The concierge at the front desk quickly got us out of the lobby and to our rooms. We dutifully tipped each of the bellmen $2, which was the customary one dollar-per-bag gratuity. Exhausted from the grueling drive, I went to bed. The others passed out.
The following day was filled with shopping, cable car rides, and lunch. It was the beginning of the holiday season and we relished everything “The City” had to offer.
Returning to the hotel, each of us with arm loads of shopping bags, we were again greeted by swarming bellmen eager to transport our new purchases to our room. Originating from a Nevada gaming town, where you tip everyone in sight, we tipped generously. This went on for the duration of the weekend.
Checking out, we found ourselves short on cash. Now remember, ATM machines were not at every corner in the 1970s. It was decided that so we would not be embarrassed by not having enough money to tip the bellmen, I would surreptitiously sneak all of our luggage and purchases out to the car. My friends held the elevator and we filled it with our bags. It was a hassle as our luggage did not have wheels. There was precious little standing room for me, what with ten suitcases, shopping bags, and rolls of gift wrap. The elevator door closed and I pressed the button labeled parking garage. To my surprise, and to the horror of my companions, who were at the front desk, the elevator doors opened in the lobby. Because we had been so generous previously, the bellmen swarmed to greet me thinking I was taking everything up to my room, instead of out of the hotel. Explaining the situation was truly embarrassing.
If we’d had Kipling Madison 22-inch wheeled duffels, our get-away would have been so much easier!