an American Tourister advertisement from 1965 featuring Eva Marie Saint, a popular actress of the time, smiling and sporting a full set of red tiara American Tourister luggage outside of the Sheraton Palace in San Francisco


    There are certain accessories, brands and garments that are so iconic to a style era that they can evoke the feeling of a decade just by making an appearance. There are definitely instances where our culture latches onto items after the fact and overstate the stylistic importance of them during the time, (I'm looking at you flapper dresses.) However, there are just as many pieces that were equal in popularity during their heyday and in our attempts to recreate the style era. My favorite example of this is American Tourister Luggage. In this post I'm going to discuss the rich history of the brand, and in the next I'll write about my affinity for spotting these pieces in media and how they can be symbolically meaningful depending on where and how they are used. 


an American Tourister advertisement from 1945 showing a set of original tri-taper luggage with vinyl siding and a boxier design than future models
    In 1933, American Luggage Works was founded in Providence, Rhode Island by a Polish immigrant named Sol Koffler. With the experiences of the great depression fresh in his mind, he made the goal of creating durable luggage that he could sell for only $1. His first suitcases were leather with a tweed interior and a fairly basic design. Miraculously, the small company managed to sell 5,000 bags in their first year. Soon after, Koffler began using his own specially designed machinery to simplify the luggage's construction while leaving ample room for packing, as well as adding linings and pockets. These features set the pieces apart from their competitors. With new potential for success, Koffler named this line of luggage 'American Tourister'.

War-time Innovations

an American Tourister advertisement from 1955 showing tri-taper hard-sided plastic luggage in several colors and styles. colorful text at the top states "TRIUMPH"
    During the second world war, American Luggage Works' resources were diverted to help the war effort. In the mid-1940s, after the war's end, air travel became more widespread, and new materials were becoming available to meet manufacturing demands. Koffler saw potential in the new materials and in the growing demand for light, durable luggage. In response, he began using a variety of materials to create new luggage designs, which were less heavy, more durable, and faster to manufacture. American Luggage Works became the first to create all-vinyl luggage, later branching out into plywood veneer, and eventually triumphing all other companies to create the first molded plastic luggage. Further chemical improvements on the plastic used in the construction soon made the pieces virtually indestructible. By the mid 50s, the iconic tri-taper design was introduced, which would make a lasting impression on travel fashion for decades to come. 

Clever Advertising

    American Tourister's sales skyrocketed due to the company's innovation, high quality, and the sleek look of its pieces. By the 1950s, American Tourister was advertising itself as the "most traveled luggage in the world," and the "standard of the world" due to its popularity. Throughout the 1960s, its advertisements included celebrities and style icons such as actress Eve Marie Saint, designers John Cavanagh and Oleg Cassini, opera singer Patrice Munsel, comedian Bob Hope, and baseball star Willie Mays. Stories of the luggage's durability also created ad campaigns boasting claims of incredible strength, famously featuring a gorilla throwing one of their suitcases around a cage. 

an American Tourister advertisement from 1962 featuring Oleg Cassini, a popular fashion designer of the era, sitting on top of and beside a set of blue and black hard side American Tourister luggage. in the background, a fashionable lady wearing red carries a blue American Tourister hat boxan American Tourister advertisement from 1966 featuring Willie Mays, a popular baseball player at the time holding and standing behind a set of black american tourister luggage. behind him sits a set of orange american tourister luggage
1962, 1966

1970 Gorilla Advertisement Video


    Needless to say, in the 1960s through 80s, American Tourister was everywhere. In person, in advertisements, in film, and in other companies' designs. Samsonite, the company's main competition, manufactured hard-sided luggage that looked almost identical to the classic tri-taper American Tourister suitcase and train case. These rival designs became very popular as well, being seen in movies and even released as Barbie accessories. This clash continued until Samsonite eventually acquired American Luggage Works in 1993. 

an all-white plastic set of Barbie American Tourister luggage
1960s Barbie Samsonite luggage


    The influence of American Tourister on modern luggage can't be overstated. At every turn, they innovated luggage technology and set the standard for other companies, proving that lightweight, durable, and stylish can come at a reasonable price. I only own two American Tourister pieces so far-- a mid-sized suitcase and a train case, but I fully plan to expand my collection to the full set someday. 

Thanks for reading!

-Celina Carra

an American Tourister advertisement from 1960 with the text "No other luggage looks like, lifts like, locks like, lasts like American Tourister. picturing a set of white hard-side luggage

Sources: http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/american-tourister-inc-history/  
Images: https://www.pinterest.com/emmar0822/suitcases-americantourister/ 

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