Over the centuries, luggage has been through many forms and has seen many different iterations. While today we’re familiar with rolling luggage, trunk luggage, suitcases, duffel bags, and all the other types of luggage you can dream of. People living just a couple hundred years ago would have a very different idea of luggage and what constituted it.

For some time, luggage has referred to the tools we use to haul our things around with us when we’re traveling. In other words, any basic bag or container could be luggage, technically, including a rucksack or backpack, messenger bag, trunk, suitcase, or a sack tied to a stick. However, the design and practicality of different kinds of luggage have always depended on the intended uses.

A sack with a handkerchief tied on at the end is ideal for someone traveling light which won’t have anyone checking their luggage–for someone circling the globe, not so much. So what used to be the premier form of luggage? Was there ever a method used for carrying cargo and goods that was popular enough to cross border lines sufficient to escape a single country or people defining it? Well, yes, there was–and it’s trunk luggage.

Trunk Luggage Through the Ages

Trunks have been the reigning form of luxury luggage for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. They’ve been used in various situations for a myriad of purposes, and it’s impossible to talk about luggage as a whole without bringing up the trunk luggage and its versatile, simple, and efficient design. The trunk allows those traveling long distances to have a sturdy and secure way to lock away their belongings.

Throughout their design iterations, trunks have boasted an aesthetic that screamed security. They have been made out of wood, primarily. Still, They are also usually coated with varnish, wax, or leather strips as a way to not only protect the exterior from normal wear-and-tear but also ensure its interior contents wouldn’t be damaged. Soft cases can be wax and varnish as weatherproofing agents, which is virtually required when you’re making long trips across the ocean on a sailing voyage. Back in the day, even luxury ships would leak quite a bit, and considering a ship’s cargo hold was usually near the bottom (as a ship needs weight, or ballast, to keep things stable). It wasn’t uncommon for a combination of seawater and sometimes even stowaway rats to eat away at a cargo’s outside and eventual insides.

Over the centuries, trunk luggage didn’t change much in its basic design. It kept its square shape for years and has never really lost it. While trunk luggage has changed a little in recent years, we’ll get into that later. What’s notable about the trunk luggage is what’s noteworthy about all elements of great design. While many inventions have changed massively over the centuries, trunk luggage is one example of classic design that demonstrates some things are fine the way they are.

Modern Trunk Luggage

Trunk luggage as we know it today looks very different from trunk luggage of the past. While it keeps the apparent elements – its square shape, sturdy design, and propensity to be on the larger side – several changes have come in the form of technological advancements, security improvements, weatherproofing, and cosmetic variety. Let’s go over each of these improvements in a little more detail.

Technological Changes

Modern trunks are often made of different materials than the trunks of old. While wooden trunks still exist and can be found en masse in almost any furniture store, most luggage providers have drastically changed their usage of materials. They focus more on lightweight metals like aluminum or thin steel-plated around a wooden frame or composed of tough, flexible polymers that can withstand an impact. Insulation technology has also improved drastically, further protecting whatever cargo is being hauled around and allowing the trunk to withstand more extreme temperatures without undergoing severe structural damage or cosmetic damage.

Another significant technological change is the addition of wheels, extendable handles, foldability, the addition of various compartments and storage additions, and more. Wheels were a major change, first introduced in 1970. While initially, wheeled trunk luggage didn’t sell incredibly well, it soon picked up traction and rolled forward through history to become the premier type of luggage it is today. Handles and compartmentalization have been around as long as trunks and luggage themselves, but they’ve also seen massive improvements. Extended handles and retractable handles are a modern feature that would’ve been inconceivable a few hundred years ago, but today they’re a regular feature. Modern manufacturing methods increasingly allow for more complicated designs and more widely available mechanical features.

Security Improvements

While locks are by no way new in any sense of the word, modern locking techniques are obviously more advanced than the relatively simple lock-and-key systems of old. New locks can be made with digital keypads, require a fingerprint or retinal scanning, and even require a blood test, but you’d have to be someone who lives a dangerous life if you needed this sort of technology on your trunk. However, major security updates that have a more practical purpose have been made much more common.

One major technological development that allowed for a more secure traveling experience is the advancement of GPS technology, which is at a point today where a single microchip can send out signals that allow owners to locate their luggage and identify where it is using a smartphone app or a website with a server dedicated to you specifically. This is especially useful when traveling abroad or through any major transportation center, such as an international airport, train, or bus station, or when staying in a hotel where you’re not entirely sure of the bellboy’s intentions. Obviously, it also serves a purpose if the luggage is stolen and will allow you to give police its exact location.

Booby-trapping is also an ancient concept, but you can actually add some more active security features to your trunk luggage – an aggressive ink spray when the trunk is forced open isn’t uncommon, much like you can see on some modern bank money bags. These are usually expensive features to add to a piece of luggage, and of course, you want someone who knows what they’re doing to install such features in a way where you’d feel safe unpacking your trunk after a long day. Because of the risks involved, these are more of a specialty feature that’s much more commonly used for military or intelligence personnel.


While we may take for granted our access to an almost unlimited supply (for now) of natural resources, our ability to utilize metals and natural materials is at an unprecedented level. That’s not to mention the amount that science has progressed, allowing us to recognize properties of materials that we may have been ignorant of before. Take, for instance, aluminum – a metal that has consistently been recognized for its lightweight nature, malleability, and being cheap. However, most manufacturers were either ignorant of or simply ignored the fact that aluminum is coated in natural oxides that protect it from corrosion, making the metal virtually weatherproof.

Today, aluminum trunk luggage is the premier way to haul cargo, clothing, and whatever else you need to bring with you on vacation. It also resists warping due to extreme temperatures and is immune to rust. That means theoretically; a well-sealed trunk could survive sinking into the ocean or being exposed to a blizzard after a train derails. Because waterproofing and water resistance tech is in a better place than ever, these aren’t ridiculous claims to make. If anything, in the world of design, they’re relatively old news.

Cosmetic Options

While it may serve no real integral purpose in terms of structure or usability, the ability to personalize our belongings makes objects more special and intimate in our eyes, and denying the fun of decorating our items is pointless. Modern tech allows us to personalize whatever we want to a staggering degree. Engraving your trunk luggage with your company logo is initials is simple. Changing the color of the metal surrounding your belongings is also easy, and adjusting the material type to fit your preferred weight or texture is also an option when designing or altering your trunk luggage.

Trunk luggage can also come in all shapes and sizes while still serving its fundamental purpose: keeping your belongings safe and secure when you’re traveling. It’s easier than ever to personalize your luggage until it’s instantly recognizable, making the act of finding it on a baggage line or locating it underneath a Greyhound that much more straightforward.

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