History of the Samsonite Brand


Samsonite International is the world’s largest travel luggage company. This brand has been around for more than 100 years and has had difficulties, but it always overcame it’s difficulties by coming out stronger than ever before. Founded in 1910 by Jesse Shwayder, Samsonite first begun business as a truck manufacturing company. Throughout the course of their successful business, the brand would obviously develop a reputation for producing quality and innovative luggage pieces. The brand has a variety of luggage styles that are certain to satisfy almost any traveler. Samsonite’s primary industry focus is to produce luggage, business and computer bags, outdoor and casual bags and travel accessories. Though Samsonite is the company’s most popular brand, it also owns other luggage brands such as American Tourister, High Sierra, Haltmann, Lipault and Speck.

Before founding Samsonite, Jesse Shwayder worked successfully as a salesman in New York. A Colorado native, Shwayder longed to not only return home, but to also pursue his dream to open a business. So, Shwayder went back home and that is how Samsonite was founded. Through a lot of hard work, Jesse and his brothers partnered together to create the successful company that is easily recognized today. By 1918, the brothers were finally able to nationally market one of their quality suitcases for the very first time. For the next eleven years, they would continue to experience many business triumphs as their revenue rose to over 1 million dollars. However, with the infamous stock market crash of 1929 that led to 10 years of the Great Depression, Samsonite would suffer a few setbacks.

The Shwayder brother’s truck shipments dropped by fifty percent in only a couple of years time. People were struggling financially and did not have the time or money to think of purchasing new luggage for vacations. So in 1931, to account for the lack of sales, the brothers turned their attention away from luggage and changed their company name to Shwayder Brothers, Inc. They soon began manufacturing a variety of products such as license plates, card tables, stilts, doggie dinettes and sandboxes.

However, the Shwayder brothers had not come to their end in the luggage industry. They were able to survive the Great Depression and by the 1930’s, their company was considered to be the most modern luggage brand. In 1939, a new and exciting piece of luggage was introduced that Jesse called ‘the Samsonite’. In fact, this is how the company obtained it’s current well-known name. This unique piece had a sturdy fiber coating and was comprised of leather bounding, and it soon became a classic to the luggage industry.

Due to the outbreak of World War II in 1941, the company was forced to quit producing luggage temporarily. With more material needed for producing war materials, the country could not afford to use those materials on luggage. After the war, the brothers were able to sell 7 million dollars worth of luggage one year after the war had ended. They had gained new skills and awareness during the war and began to produce their luggage pieces using new synthetic materials. At this time, the brothers split their company into two divisions: luggage and steel/folding furniture.

In the 1950’s during the Korean War, the brothers were able to increase their luggage sales once again, but they also dedicated a lot of their time to building necessary war materials such as bombs and rocket carriers. They no longer exclusively created suitcases, but they also created a variety of quality carrying cases.

Perhaps one of the most popular lines in Samsonite history is the Ultralite Luggage Line that debuted in 1956. This was a milestone in the luggage industry because it was the first suitcase where the traditional wood-frame construction was not used. Instead, this new suitcase was produced using magnesium and injection-molded plastics.

That was not the only exciting thing that would occur in the company during 1956. The Shwayder brothers were finally able to begin expanding their company internationally. Apart from the United States, they now had a separate Canadian subsidiary as well as an export sales department centered on Europe. Today, Samsonite products extend all over the world in America, Canada, Asia, Europe and Africa.

By the 1960’s, much of the Samsonite company was now being run by Jesse Shwayder’s son, King D. It can be said that King is responsible for the establishing the company as the world’s leading manufacturer of luggage and attache cases. However, it would not stop there. By the early 1970’s Samsonite had developed an extremely successful line of soft sided luggage and new factories were created in Arizona and New Mexico for the purpose of manufacturing this new soft sided luggage.

Now, Samsonite was considered to be the top luggage manufacturer in the entire world. However, in 1973 Samsonite was purchased by one of the world’s largest corporations – Beatrice Foods. The company allowed Samsonite to continue business, and it offered financial support as well. Throughout this time until the early 1990’s, many companies would buy and sell Samsonite.

In the early 1970’s, Samsonite’s influence as the top luggage manufacturer began to diminish. This setback can be attributed to poor management of the company. To solve to this problem, Beatrice, who at the time still owned Samsonite, brought in Malcom Candlish to be the company’s new leader. A consumer products industry executive, Candlish helped restore Samsonite to it’s former greatness by starting cost cutting programs, laying off workers, and hiring more aggressive new employees. In fact, by 1989, half of the company’s original employees had been replaced.

To further satisfy consumers, Candlish also launched a new study to find out exactly what they wanted. This study eventually led to a new product known as ‘The World’s Greatest Garment Bag’. Extremely successful, that product was soon followed by many more soft and hard sided luggage products. Once again, Samsonite was the top luggage manufacturer in all of the world. The company was more successful than ever, as it was generating approximately 300 million dollars worth of annual sales as well as controlling 12 percent of the luggage market. Samsonite’s growth would not stop, and by 1989 it now generated around 430 million dollars annually! Candlish was continuing to succeed at his job and he always searched for ways to reduce costs and invent new luggage pieces.

In spite of the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s, Samsonite continued to flourish, although their parent company, E-II filed for bankruptcy. After this dilemma, Samsonite became a subsidiary of a new company called Astrum International Corp. The former E-II executive, Steve Green, now became the new chairman as well as chief executive of the company. Through Green’s leadership, Samsonite continued expanding. Through the purchase of other luggage brands such as American Tourister, Samsonite’s annual sales increased dramatically. In 1994, Samsonite generated an estimated 634 million dollars worth of sales. More than ever, the company was truly seen as the world’s leader in manufacturing luggage.

In 1995, Samsonite finally regained it’s independence when Astrum announced that they would now split into two companies. One of those companies would now be the Samsonite corporation! This new company was able to keep to keep the Samsonite and American Tourister divisions and Steve Green still planned to be the head of the company. Samsonite was now expanding more so than ever, and they extended their product line to luggage racks, golf and ski bags, camping gear and computer and camera cases.

When producing a product, quality is everything. Samsonite has always believed this. Stephanie Goldman, the director of marketing communications said, “We really focus on quality, durability and innovation in our messaging.” She added, “We make sure it’s clear to the consumer what they get if they buy a Samsonite product. The product is the hero of our advertising.”

To emphasize this even further, in Samsonite’s early days, owner Jesse Shwayder and his brothers made a business ad which pictured themselves standing on the suitcases to demonstrate their durability. This was especially significant because all of the men in the picture weighed more than 1,000 pounds together. In fact, the brand name Samsonite was originally derived from the Biblical character, Samson who was so famous for his strength.

Recently, Samsonite’s marketing campaigns have not only continued to advertise how durable the products are, but how lightweight they are also. This can be seen in the company’s new Lift2 Luggage Line that debuted in January of 2014. The tag line for this new product is, “Light meets might”.

While other brands turn toward celebrities to endorse their products, Samsonite does otherwise. Instead, Samsonite makes their products the center of their advertisements by implementing unique, innovative features to their luggage pieces. In the brand’s early years of development, new features that were new to the luggage industry were implemented into their products. Features such as wood-frame construction, strong handles, rayon linings, fiber finishes and secure locks may not seem very innovative today, but they were revolutionary when Samsonite first introduced them. Even more impressive, a newer Samsonite product is the Micro Samsonite. However, this suitcase is unlike any other suitcase you may have heard about.

Not only is this luggage piece part hard shell case, but it is also a kick board-style scooter! Simply extended the integrated upright handle and three-wheeled kick board and you can now glide across the airport while you catch your flight. Upon your arrival at your gate, you can easily convert the scooter back into a carry-on bag that fits conveniently above in the overhead bin of the plane. This new and modern creation serves as the perfect example the type of innovative, durable and quality product that Samsonite has had a reputation for producing over the years.

Another modern example that shows Samsonite’s innovative spirit is the new suitcase known as the Lite-Locked. This new suitcase boasts the three point locking system that allows even greater security for travelers! In addition, the suitcase is made from Curv, a material exclusive to Samsonite. As a result of using this material, the luggage is extremely durable and impact resistant. The Lite-Locked glides smoothly through the airport due to it’s spinner wheels that make it even more lightweight than ever. It serves as an example of the company’s durable, innovative products that will continue to be seen for many years to come.

Indeed, Samsonite truly produces quality and innovative pieces. From the very beginning phases of the company with the original founders, the Shwayder brothers, to the more advanced stages Steve Green and other leaders, Samsonite has continued to persevere and rise above challenges. It has not stopped providing new and durable pieces of luggage, and it will continue to succeed as long as it continues to produce quality products that consumers want.”