Samsonite History

Samsonite was founded in Denver, Colorado, in 1910 by Jesse Shwayder.

Over time, Samsonite would slowly grow from a small family business to today’s international corporation.

As you keep reading, you will see that this was not an easy journey, and the company struggled considerably to get where it is today.

The Inception

At the beginning of his career, Jesse Shwayder, of Polish-Jewish descent, worked for years at Seward Trunk Co. in New York. 

In the early 1900s, Seward Trunk Co. was making trunks, steamers, and luggage; Jesse Shwayder made a name for himself by selling company products.

Working at Seward Trunk Co., Shwayder familiarized himself with the process of manufacturing and selling suitcases and the idea of creating his own company emerged.

Soon he had enough money to start his own business. 

In March 1910, in Denver, he founded the Shwayder Trunk Manufacturing Company. He had only $3,500 at the time, and the company had ten employees. 

Realizing that he couldn’t compete with the big names in the market, Shwayder decided to take a different approach than the bigger companies: he made the best quality suitcases and added a hefty price tag. 

Shwayder brothers on a “Samson” case.

In addition, Shwayder chose the biblical name of Samson for his bags to symbolize the strength and durability of the suitcases.

The company didn’t turn a profit that year, so Shwayder was forced to take on loans. After that, Shwayder himself started making door-to-door sales to keep the business going.

In 1911 the company became profitable, and in 1912, Jesse Shwayder’s brother Maurice joined the sales team.

In the next couple of years, Jesse Shwayder’s brothers Sol, Ben, and Mark also joined him.

Expansion

In 1918 the first nationally advertised suitcase was launched and sales exploded.

To keep up with the demand, the Shwayder brothers hired more people and erected another factory.

The company was ramping up profit year after year, and it seemed that nothing was going to stop it.

Stock Market Crash

Unfortunately, as you know, in 1929 the stock market crashed, followed by the Great Depression.

The Shwayder brothers understood that being in a luxury market wasn’t going to help sales when people were struggling to make ends meet.

In response to the crisis, the company started manufacturing all kinds of products ranging from license plates and card tables to stilts, doggie dinettes, and sandboxes.

Everything that was turning a profit was manufactured to avoid bankruptcy.

The group also changed its name to Shwayder Brothers, Inc. to better reflect the diversification of its products. 

The Samsonite Name Enters the Scene

After surviving the worst economic turmoil in American history, in 1939 the company launched the first suitcase which bore the name “Samsonite.” This suitcase was the predecessor of the Samsonite Streamlite. After that, Samsonite would slowly replace the brand name Samson. 

Samsonite in WWII

In 1940, the factories were reconfigured to produce war materials. During this time, the company changed to an assembly line to keep up with the War Minister’s deadlines.

After WW2, these changes would be used to speed up the suitcase production line.

Unfortunately, this was not the only war that saw Samsonite products. During the 1950’s Korean War, the factories were again converted to manufacture war items.

Lego System by Samsonite

Samsonite struck a deal with Lego to produce and sell the legendary Lego bricks.

The Lego toy sales were performing well in Europe, but Lego was not the legendary brand that it is today; the signed deal allowed Samsonite to produce and sell Lego in North America and Canada under the name “Lego by Samsonite” for ten years.

The Lego toys were a great success, so Samsonite ramped up its toy production and constructed a factory solely for the manufacture of the well-known bricks.

It’s my firm belief that Lego wouldn’t be the global name that it is today without this partnership.

In the late 1960s, Lego by Samsonite sales reached $8 million.

In 1972 after a legal dispute with the Danish firm, Samsonite phased out the Lego business in the United States but remained the sole distributor of Lego bricks in Canada until 1986.

You should know that there is a collectors’ market for vintage Lego sets, and if you manage to track down an old Lego set in the original Samsonite package, you could sell it for a nice sum of money.

Years of Change

In 1973 Samsonite was acquired by the giant Beatrice Foods corporation in a $100+ million deal. Over the years, Samsonite would change ownership many times.

In the mid-1980s, brand sales increased to more than $300 million, and at the end of the decade, sales were hitting over $400 million.

The Eventful 1990s

In the 1990s, the fall of the Berlin wall created new opportunities to expand the brand further. People started to travel more, and airlines were struggling to keep up. Soon after, the airline stocks were skyrocketing. It was a great time for the travel industry.

In 1994 Samsonite acquired American Tourister.

American Tourister offered similar quality luggage at a lower price point, and I believe that Samsonite decided to buy it to avoid unnecessary competition.

Also in 1994, Samsonite Ziplite was introduced: the first polypropylene suitcase with a zipper closure thus combined the advantages of hard-sided and soft-sided luggage into one package. The Samsonite Ziplite was a breakthrough in the industry.

It goes without saying that the Samsonite Ziplite was a huge success; we are now seeing the 4th iteration of this suitcase.

Modern Age

In 2014, Marcello Bottoli was named C.E.O.; Bottoli wanted a fresh style for Samsonite, so he made an effort to redesign the old cases.

After the redesign, there was a switch in the marketing process from T.V. ads to influencers.

Bottoli also changed the direction of the American Tourister brand – he launched the A.T. bags in Europe and Asia. 

Bottoli decided that Samsonite products should not compete with American Tourister’s.

To become more competitive in the international markets, Samsonite’s factories in Italy, Spain, and France were closed down.

Huge Deal

All the money the brand was making had to go somewhere, and in 2016, Samsonite bought the luxury luggage line Tumi in a staggering $1.8 billion deal. 

This was the turning point that “forced” Louis Vuitton to acquire Rimowa since Rimowa was the only luxury luggage brand available for sale. 

A new factory was built in Hungary to capitalize on the low-cost workforce.

In 2017, the Samsonite market capitalization reached over $6 billion.

Covid Crisis

Of course, all travel-related businesses were hit hard by Covid-19; Samsonite was no exception.

From a market cap of $6 billion, Samsonite dropped to $1.5 billion. However, I have the utmost confidence that the company will recover from this. 

Samsonite’s focus now is expanding the non-travel segment, manufacturing more handbags and backpacks; this strategy should allow the group to survive until the whole travel market recovers.

The Future of Samsonite

Samsonite’s future doesn’t look bright. If I were a stock investor, I would think twice before buying Samsonite stocks. There is a high degree of incertitude about whether the market will recover or not.

One thing I do know: Samsonite didn’t survive the Great Depression and WW2 only to be killed by a small germ that nobody can see.

People will never stop traveling, and they will need something to carry around their belongings. When this happens, Samsonite will be ready to provide them with the “necessary tools.”

Samsonite Logo History

The Samsonite expansion in the 1970s called for a new logo to better represent the brand’s image on the international markets. The new logo would also symbolize the brand’s core beliefs. 

The Samsonite Design West subsidiary created the Samsonite corporation logo or “Samsonite Swirl” in March, 1973. The subsidiary made several variations from which the company board chose the current one. 

We don’t know who made the final selection, but he nailed it.

The four interlocking petals represent the four pillars of the company:

  • Development
  • Design
  • Market Research
  • Publicity

The logo also signaled the company’s presence on four continents at that time. 

In the years following, the “Samsonite Swirl” would become the symbol of the brand.

If you show random people the logo, they instantly know it’s Samsonite.

The logo is used on its own or replaces the letter “O” in the Samsonite name.

Although the original logo was blue, other colors were used to reflect the brand appearance better; regardless, the “Samsonite Swirl” design was not changed.

F.A.Q

What does Samsonite mean?

Samsonite’s name was inspired by the biblical hero Samson who was a strongman. The first branded cases were sold under the name Samson.

You may be wondering how the switch from Samson to Samsonite occured.

In 1939, a new suitcase was introduced that was named Samsonite – and in 1938, Superman made his comic book debut.

I know what you are thinking: Shwayder got the inspiration for his brand name from kryptonite, right?

Wrong.

The first mention of kryptonite was in 1943.

Shwayder said he tried to bring Samson into the new era and played around with the term until he invented the Samsonite name.

He liked it so much that he chose this name for the next company suitcase.

Who owns Samsonite now?

Samsonite doesn’t currently have an owner or a majority stakeholder. However, more than 80% of the Samsonite corporation shares are available for the public to trade.

Big group shareholders are:

  • Hermes Investment Management Ltd. (owns 10%)
  • Dcp Ltd. (owns 7%)
  • HSBC Global Asset Management (Hong Kong) Ltd. (owns close to 5%)
  • Timothy Charles Parker, Chairman of Samsonite (owns 4%)

The rest of the shares are divided between different individuals and entities. 

Does Samsonite have a lifetime warranty?

No, Samsonite doesn’t have a lifetime warranty.

Samsonite has a 10-year global limited warranty, which means that Samsonite will only repair or replace the product if there are manufacturing defects.

The ten-year limited warranty will not cover defects made by the user or airlines. 

Are old Samsonite suitcases worth anything?

The answer to this question depends on a couple of factors.

Is your luggage old, vintage old?

You can sell your vintage Samsonite at an auction on eBay or similar sites if the answer is yes.

Condition is everything with vintage suitcases. It would be best if you didn’t try to restore it on your own.

Most of the time, when someone finds an old object and restores it, they ruin the item’s value.

Samsonite Train Case

Don’t expect to make a fortune from it, but you can make some cash, especially if you have a rare suitcase in good condition.

If your luggage is worn and it’s from the modern era, the best course of action would be to donate it. Several charities accept this kind of donation if the suitcases are in working order.

If you have a beat up suitcase, the best use of your time would be to throw the luggage away.

I have a hint that will spare you some time:

When I want to get rid of unwanted items, I place an announcement on local Facebook groups with different items that anybody can take, and I put the luggage with them.

Chances are, if someone comes to take the items, they will also take the bags to carry them.