Samsonite was founded in 1910 by Jesse Shwayder, an US-based Jewish salesman who worked for the Seward Trunk & Bag company, selling suitcases to Colorado inhabitants. After moving to New York in the late 1800s, to pursue the sales career in the aforementioned company, Jesse returned to Colorado and using his life savings – about $3,500, he established his own factory, which began its activity on March 10, 1910, with 10 employees.
Initially producing folding card tables and furniture, the factory became incorporated as the Shwayder Trunk Manufacturing Company in 1912, when Jesse’s brothers joined the business. They started producing suitcases under the brand “Samson”, a name inspired by the Biblical character, which perfectly described the line of products manufactured in Shwayder’s factory: strong, resistant and rough.
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In those times, luggage was considered a luxury reserved for the wealthy ones, who had the means to travel around the world and could afford not only the exclusive pieces of luggage, but also the high-quality services offered during the transportation. The suitcases produced by Jesse’s factory were therefore regarded as more than travel accessories: they were a symbol of power, richness and unlimited possibilities.
Shwayder had no management knowledge or experience, but he did have a Golden Rule for his life, and he implemented this philosophy into the company’s business model as well. A religious man, Jesse asked all the company’s executives to carry this Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – engraved on golden bands. This dedication, care and attention was transferred to the production process, so it comes as no surprise that Samsonite has been known from the beginning for its superb craftsmanship and attention to detail.
Although the business was steady and 7 years after founding the company the Shwayder brothers turned a profit of over $76,000, the lack of knowledge and resources made Jesse realize he didn’t have all it took for competing with larger and more established competitors. He therefore decided to adopt a risky but winning position: instead of producing cheap luggage for a larger number of customers, he preferred to focus on the quality of his travel bags, not on the price.
When the Shwayder brothers took a photo standing atop one of their suitcases, they unintentionally launched one of the most popular and effective marketing campaigns for their travel bags, which started to be promoted as “strong enough to stand on”. The high-end bags produced by the Shwayder Manufacturing Company were among the most resistant and durable on the market, being highly appreciated for their toughness.
In the 1930s, struggling to overcome the stock market crash, Jesse decided to expand the company’s offer beyond luggage and started selling sandboxes, license plates and furniture as well. The decision proved to be a wise one, as it helped the company go through the Great Depression without having to stop its luggage production. In 1939, the company introduced a sleekly-designed suitcase branded “Samsonite”, with vulcanized fiber covering and a tapered shape, and two years later they started using the new brand name for all their products and marketing efforts. In 1941 they launched the Streamlite travel bags, an innovative line of products made of wooden frames covered in vulcanized fibers and decorated with rawhide, to look like leather.
The durable products made by Shwayder’s factory were appreciated for their innovative features, like strong handles, rayon linings and specialty fiber finishes. After the War, the company expanded again its production, selling hard cases for musical instruments and electronic equipment. In 1956, the Ultralite line of luggage was introduced; it was the first collection of travel bags that featured a light but strong frame made of magnesium and molded plastic.
From small luggage factory to multi-million corporation
Although Jesse retired in the early 1960s, his son King David took over the company’s management and continued to expand the factory’s portfolio, reinforcing its position as an internationally recognized, multi-million dollar company. In 1961 King David signed an agreement with Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, the President of the LEGO Group: a 99-year license for exclusive North American distribution of marketing sets under the name LEGO by Samsonite. The arrangement ended in 1972, but Shwayder continued the distribution in Canada until 1988.
In 1962, Shwayder’s company produced the Classic Attache, the first magnesium reinforced ABS-document case for businessmen. Three years later, in 1965, the company was renamed Samsonite Corporation after its bestselling product. In the early 1970s, Samsonite developed a line of soft-sided luggage and built new factories in New Mexico and Arizona, but the poor management led to the selling of the company to the Beatrice Foods corporation, in 1973. With the financial support received from the new owners, Samsonite continued to develop its products and to expand, revolutionizing the luggage market over and over again.
In 1974 the company produced the first Samsonite suitcase on wheels, and in 1989 the first suitcase with a piggyback system was created. Using high quality materials and original designs, Samsonite focused on quality and innovation, turning their products into the heroes of their advertising. In 1993, Samsonite acquired American Toursiter and launched the first collection of feminine luggage, Handy Case. Four years later it produced the first Big Wheel upright case designed for climbing stairs easier, and in 2000 the company produced the first Samsonite aluminum suitcase. Although travel bags remained the main focus, Samsonite continued to expand its portfolio and started producing business and computer bags, outdoor and casual bags, travel accessories, camping gear, camera cases and sports bags.
Year after year, Samsonite continued to create innovative luggage, such as the first suitcase with a wide pull handle (2001), the first travel bag with a rigid but lightweight shell structure, made of over-injected thermo-formed panels (2002), or the first suitcase with a multi-point lock system (2005). Starting 2008, Samsonite produces the strongest and lightest hard-sided travel bags on the market, made of Curv material and featuring the same unique designs. The integrated, ergonomic handles, smooth wheels, and spacious, practical compartments recommend the Samsonite travel solutions as the most advanced and revolutionary pieces of luggage on the market.