American Tourister's story
The story of American Tourister began in 1932, when immigrant Sol Koffler founded American Luggage Works and opened the first shop in a vacant grocery store, spending all his life savings on this new company.
The country was going through the Great Depression, so Koffler’s dream was to design an affordable but durable luggage that would sell for $1. Although design-wise the suitcase wasn’t a revolutionary product, in the first year of operation the entrepreneur managed to sell 5,000 travel bags. Koffler learned how to produce these bags while working in a plant that was manufacturing steamer trunks, and then in a pocketbook factory.
In those times, travel bags were made of thin strips of wood covered in paper, cloth or leather, but Koffler wanted to produce more durable luggage so he adapted the machinery used to make plywood radio cases and managed to come up with a new method that allowed him to create travel bags with a simpler design and higher durability.
Decades of innovation and new standards for the luggage industry
Working alone at first and handling all aspects of the new company himself, Koffler soon hired more employees for the production process and decided to focus only on design and sales. This was a winning move, as the product line expanded to include new sizes, colors and models. Unlike most travel bags of those times, Koffler’s suitcases were slim and round-cornered, with linings and zippered pockets. The new bags, which were not only more beautiful but also more expensive, selling for $2-$3, quickly became a success, and set a new standard for the industry.
American Luggage Works continued to expand, in the early 1940s the company’s offer including eight luggage sizes. During the war, Koffler introduced a revolutionary material, being the first manufacturer to produce an all-vinyl case. The sleekest and smoothest luggage case made of molded plywood veneer generated record sales, the entire year’s production of vinyl cases and leather goods being sold within two hours.
The company was already known for its innovative travel bags, but Koffler wanted to raise the bar even higher by producing the first molded plastic suitcases. The shells of these bags were light but strong, as the material was more versatile and more resistant than the previous ones. The plastic’s chemical composition was improved in 1954 and enabled Koffler to produce virtually indestructible travel bags.
The amazing durability of the American Tourister bags inspired the company’s first advertising campaign, with ads featuring a gorilla stomping on a suitcase, or an American Tourister bag being dropped from an airplane and remaining undamaged. The brand was one of the first to flight test their bags with flight attendants from major airlines in the 1960s. By the end of 1970s, the company was already one of the most popular in the United States, so in 1978 Koffler sold it to Hillenbrand Industries, a furniture manufacturer from Indiana.
In the early 1990s, American Tourister was again sold to Astrum International Corporation, a sales and manufacturing holding company which also owned Samsonite Corporation, one of Koffler’s competitors. The new owner wanted to distinguish the two brands, so he started advertising American Tourister as the first choice for family vacationers, while Samsonite was promoted as a business line. In 1995, Astrum split into two companies, Samsonite Corporation maintaining both luggage brands. Today, American Tourister is one of the best-known and most trusted producers of luggage in the United States and Europe.