They’ve been charged by a bull, thrown out of moving cars and slammed in doors. Samsonite is a household name in luggage in part because of its memorable marketing campaigns. Of course, that’s not the only reason the Samsonite name has endured for more than 100 years and holds the number-one spot in top-selling luggage in the U.S., Europe and Japan.
The Story of Samsonite
Jesse Schwayder, a former suitcase salesman for the Seward Trunk & Bag Company, founded Samsonite in Denver in 1910 under the brand name Samson. The company originally made furniture and card tables as a family enterprise run by Schwayder and his brothers. After years of selling robust trunks and suitcases, the company introduced the Samsonite suitcase in 1941. That first model was called the Samsonite Streamlite, a new design in luggage at the time. It was made of vulcanized fiber that resembled rawhide, and its shape was advertised as conforming to the body for easy carrying.
Samsonite bags were wildly successful, and the Samson company officially changed its name to Samsonite in 1966. When Jesse Schwayder passed away in 1970, his son, King David Schwayder, was at the helm. Starting in 1973, ownership of the company changed hands several times after first being purchased by Beatrice Foods. The Samsonite brand was then sold to Kholbert, Kravis and Roberts in 1986 and then to American Brands, which was bought by billionaire Meshulam Riklis.
The company became an independent, publicly owned corporation in 1995. Today, Samsonite is an International Corporation and the leading luggage manufacturer in the world. Its main headquarters are in Denver, Colorado, but it has offices worldwide.
The Evolution of Samsonite Bags
Samsonite has maintained its position as the top luggage maker by continually innovating and improving its bags while maintaining its focus on durability. For instance, they introduced the concept of piggybacking luggage in 1989, which led to the industry-wide movement toward upright suitcases. Here are some notable Samsonite models through the years:
- Silhouette: Samsonite introduced this line of luggage in 1958. It had a sleek, modern shape and recessed hardware that held up well to wear and tear.
- Classic Attache Case: The company met the needs of the 1960s business executive with this durable, hard-shell briefcase.
- Saturn: With the eyes of the world turned toward outer space in 1969, Samsonite launched the Saturn suitcase. It was the first polypropylene suitcase with injection-molded shells. It came in far-out colors like gold, red and dreamy dark blue.
- Sam: This was the first Samsonite suitcase with wheels. It was also accompanied by some 1970s-appropriate risque advertising declaring that Sam sticks close, never intrudes and keeps all your deepest secrets above a photo of a couple embracing in what appears to be a hotel room.
- Oyster: The lightweight, hard-sided Oyster came out in 1986. It was the first case with a three-point locking system, and it went on to be the fastest-selling suitcase of all time.
Since the release of the Oyster, Samsonite has continued to innovate and recently introduced the first-ever web-connected suitcase with geo-tracking capabilities and other smart-luggage features. Samsonite also makes garment bags, computer cases, sports bags and casual bags. You can find their shoes and accessories sold under names such as Hedgren and Samsonite Black Label. They also license the Samsonite name for use on products such as clothing and handbags.
Despite intense competition from cheap suitcase manufacturers worldwide and a rough period when the company changed hands several times, Samsonite is still going strong. It remains a brand that’s respected for its legacy of high-quality luggage and bags.