Read enough business books and you’ll hear the story about the invention of the Rollaboard, the first luggage with wheels and a telescoping handle. It was invented by an airline pilot named Robert Plath in 1987. Prior to that an inventor named Sadler had developed luggage with wheels that you towed through the airport, but it was the Rollaboard that revolutionized the luggage industry.
The point of the story inevitably comes around to why did it take so long to come up with something so simple? Usually the biggest innovations are right in front of you waiting to be discovered. Luggage was a common problem and adding wheels was inevitable, yet it still took decades for it to happen.
Savvy travelers would pack lightly for long trips, wear the suit they’d use in the meeting, and take advantage of the curbside luggage for those bulky bags you couldn’t avoid. Now we max out the space available and buy scales to ensure we don’t go over the weight limit. The idea of hauling 50 pound bags around the airport today without wheels is ludicrous. How quickly the norm has changed from “keep it manageable” to “jamb it all in”.
I’m on a three day business trip. I drove down to New Jersey last night with twelve million other people. Since I was driving I gave myself the luxury of an extra pair of shoes. One pair of dress black and one pair of dress brown shoes. Putting those in my small bag required creative packing but I’m a veteran carry-on traveler so no big deal. But then I remembered I needed to bring running shoes for exercise and a team-building event of some sort to be named later. I could have driven in any of these three pairs of shoes but dress shoes with shorts went out of style in 10,000 BC, and everybody knows you don’t wear your running shoes when you drive, so another pair of shoes was absolutely justified. For those keeping score that’s four pairs of shoes for a three day trip. I blame the luggage wheels for bringing me to this point.
Luggage wheels solved a first world problem, but created another with the average weight of bags going up. There’s a direct link between luggage wheels and the ubiquitous storage units popping up all over the country. Wheels lead to more stuff, more stuff leads to maxing out the capacity of the attic and garage. Pretty soon people are renting storage space in some row of metal garages that used to be a cornfield. Progress? I think not. So this morning I have to choose between brown and black dress shoes. So much for keeping it simple.