A few years ago in the Shreveport, Louisiana, airport, where there is not much to do and therefore security personnel can be chatty, a nice airport employee helped me lift my rolling bag onto the x-ray conveyer belt and informed me that America had put a man on the moon before anyone had thought to invent luggage with wheels on it. I smiled politely because I am Southern and that is what I do when I have no idea what a person who is speaking to me is talking about, which is most of the time. But it turns out that was sort of true—although we could have had rolling suitcases for much longer if not for men not wanting to appear effeminate by rolling their luggage instead of brawnily heaving it around like people too insecure to be logical.
According to Katrine Marçal, author of How Good Ideas Get Ignored in an Economy Built for Men, the common story is that the rolling suitcase wasn’t “invented” until 1972. In reality, travelers, particularly women travelers, had been buying little gizmos to make their suitcases roll since the 1940s at least, when porters were increasingly infrequent at train stations but women still had places to go and stuff to take there. But because wheels on suitcases were a thing that made women’s lives easier, train station staff did not like them:
“In 1967, a Leicestershire woman wrote a sharply worded letter to her local newspaper complaining that a bus conductor had forced her to buy an additional ticket for her rolling suitcase. The conductor argued that “anything on wheels should be classed as a pushchair”. She wondered what he would have done if she had boarded the bus wearing roller-skates. Would she be charged as a passenger or as a pram?”
And this stigma, that rolling luggage was basically a stroller for your socks, persisted so long that even after the rolling suitcase was patented and on the mainstream market, its inventors couldn’t convince men to give it a try for a good 15 years:
“Two assumptions about gender were at work here. The first was that no man would ever roll a suitcase because it was simply “unmanly” to do so. The second was about the mobility of women. There was nothing preventing a woman from rolling a suitcase – she had no masculinity to prove. But women didn’t travel alone, the industry assumed. If a woman travelled, she would travel with a man who would then carry her bag for her. This is why the industry couldn’t see any commercial potential in the rolling suitcase. It took more than 15 years for the invention to go mainstream, even after Sadow had patented it.”
But by the 1980s, more women were traveling alone, and those women didn’t care if their socks were in a little carriage because that is a very silly thing to give a shit about. Then, some dude made the whole thing a little sleeker and viola, everyone standing pointlessly in the way in every airport in the world was also pointlessly blocking the few feet beside them with their suitcase on wheels—the exact global erasure of masculinity and normalized misandry your gender studies professor wished to see in the world.