History of the Messenger Bag

Published on 03/17/2016

  • History of the Messenger Bag

Today’s messenger bag is an important piece of history. The functional bag you hoist over your shoulder to carry school books, work documents or clothes for a weekend getaway has a rich history that spans more than a century over a multitude of countries. Here’s how the messenger bag came to be.

Pony Express

In the 1860s, the fastest way to get words and information to far away places was to use the Pony Express. Skilled horsemen like William Cody (better known as Buffalo Bill), Billy Tate and Jack Keetley rode hundreds of miles without stopping to eat or drink in order to deliver small packages, mail, newspapers, telegrams and other missives across the United States in record speed.

In those days, messenger bags were large leather satchels, sometimes called mochilas, that fit over the saddle of the horse, where they could easily be moved from horse to horse with ease, and also carried over the shoulder of the rider when foot travel was required.


The messenger bag served several purposes during WWII. Medics used the heavy duty bags to carry supplies, army officers toted importants documents around in leather messenger-style bags, ammo sacks were often smaller versions of the messenger bag, and dispatch riders carried mail in an over-the-shoulder sling-type wool bag that resembles the classic messenger bag.

Mail carriers

Moving from horse to foot, postal carriers began walking their routes and carrying the day’s deliveries in large canvas or wool messenger bags. Many postal carriers in Europe and America continue to use an oversized messenger bag to tote parcels from location to location safely and in all types of weather.

Utility pole climbers/phone workers

Utility pole climbers, such as those who work on landline phone wires and electrical lines, carry leather messenger-type bags over their shoulder to house and protetc tools against nicks, dings and the elements.

Bicycle messengers

Bicycle messengers have carried messenger bag to transfer documents from one client to another since the 1800s. The United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS), in fact, was started by two teens in the early 1900s who used a single bicycle to deliver telegrams and other items of importance using nothing more than pedal power and a messenger bag.

Fashion trend --late 80s

In 1980, the messenger bag became an urban fashion trend when outdoor enthusiast  John Peters founded Manhattan Portage, the godfather of messenger bag companies. Within the next decade, companies like Timbuk2, PAC Designs, REI and Arc'teryx develop their own line of urban-inspired fashion-forward bags that aimed to be as functional as they were stylish.

Today’s messenger bag

Today, you’ll still find bike couriers whizzing through major cities with a messenger bag strapped to their back. Utility workers and IT employees frequently carry the tools of their trade in messenger bags, and postal carriers are known for their indestructible messenger bags. And of course businessmen and women everywhere have adopted the sleek, durable, go-anywhere bag over the old school briefcase. The messenger bag provides easy access to contents for students, travelers, workers, moms and others worldwide.

The century old design of the messenger bag has withstood the test of time like no other bag in history. With a well-earned reputation for being versatile, long-lasting and durable, the messenger bag is one of the few pieces of luggage where fashion blends with function perfectly.


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