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Wheeled travel bag turns 40

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y.

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. – Briggs & Riley deserves the honor of easing the pain of bad backs, helping marital relationships and allowing people to travel more smoothly, making many of us question, “What did we do before the creation of wheeled luggage?” The month of October, 2010 marks the 40th anniversary of the company’s invention of wheeled luggage. Despite a now eternal expectation to have luggage on wheels, 40 years ago, buyers at major department stores dismissed the notion and threw the creator out of their offices.

The first wheeled bag was the brainchild of Briggs & Riley’s parent company U.S. Luggage and then-president Bernard Sadow. When returning from Aruba with his wife and their two heavy suitcases, he noticed a skid nearby, and made an inspired connection, turning to his wife and saying, “That’s what luggage needs: wheels.”

“I knew it was going to change the industry the second I thought of it. That skid has made traveling a little easier for millions and millions of people,” Sadow said.

The prototype that rolled out of the Massachusetts luggage factory in October 1970 had four wheels and a rope tow to pull it along. One by one, Sadow approached the buyers of Gimbels, Macy’s and other department stores, and one by one, he was shown the door. Finally, a visionary vice president at Macy’s saw the potential. He demanded that his buyer – the same buyer who had already called the idea crazy – place an order and be the first to sell wheeled luggage.

Customers made wheeled luggage an instant success and the orders rolled in. The original wheeled luggage was built with caster wheels made from plastic and metal. The bags have since evolved to two wheels that get lighter, quieter, stronger and more flexible with each breakthrough from Briggs & Riley engineers. U.S. Luggage filed for and won a patent on the now lucrative innovation in 1972, which was later defeated by other companies who now can put wheels on their luggage.

“Just because every piece of luggage has a wheel, doesn’t make it a Briggs & Riley wheel; you get what you pay for,” says Briggs & Riley and U.S. Luggage CEO Richard Krulik.