Home » History » School Backpacks were First Used at the University of Washington in 1972. Jansport, a Seattle-Based Company, modified the Existing Backpacks for Day Hikers.

School Backpacks were First Used at the University of Washington in 1972. Jansport, a Seattle-Based Company, modified the Existing Backpacks for Day Hikers.

Students and hikers commonly use backpacks to carry heavy loads or a variety of items. This ingenious invention is ergonomic as well as ideal for avoiding theft. But did you know when the backpack was first used?

School backpacks, as we know them today, were first used at the University of Washington in 1972. Jansport, a Seattle-based company at the time, modified existing day hiker backpacks.

The History of Backpacks

Humans have been carrying objects on their backs for nearly as long as they have walked on two legs. Our forefathers may have been inspired by watching animals take their young, or they may have discovered that much heavier objects can be carried on the back rather than in the arms.

Carrying something on your back gives you more weight for extended periods and frees up your hands, allowing you to take a spear, climb a tree, or swipe your credit card. To free your hands, you’ll need a backpack to do the holding for you.

Evidence for early backpacks is scarce, possibly because the materials used to make them are prone to decay. The earliest candidate dates from 3300 BC. The mummified remains of Otzi the Iceman were discovered in the Alps by two Italian tourists in 1991. 

Among the extraordinary collection of artifacts are the remains of what may be the world’s oldest backpack: a U-shaped hazel rod two meters long and two wooden boards forty centimeters long. It’s possible that these parts were tied together with string and used to support a hide bag, resulting in a framed backpack. Wooden-framed backpacks for carrying firewood have a long history in the Alps. (Source: Mahi Leather

The Origin of the Word “Backpack”

The term backpack did not appear in print until around 1910, but knapsack, derived from the German word Knapp, which means food, has been used since 1603. By the end of the 19th century, rucksack, from the German word for back, had become the preferred term. Colonel Henry C. Merriam of the United States designed the forerunner of today’s small, frameless backpacks for infantry use in 1874.

Sekk med meis or bag with a frame were popular in 19th century Norway, and in 1909, Ole F Bergans patented a canvas rucksack with a curved metal frame that effectively transferred some of the weight carried by the shoulders to the hips. Gerry Cunningham created the first zippered backpack in 1938, and Dick Kelty made an aluminum framed backpack in 1952, so by the 1960s, the two technological innovations that would determine the design of the modern backpack were in place. (Source: Mahi Leather

How was the Backpack Used in the Military? 

Initially used primarily for military purposes, the backpack gained popularity in the first half of the twentieth century for recreational purposes such as hiking. Internal frame backpacks and small nylon backpacks first appeared on the American market in 1967 and were quickly adopted by students as a replacement for strap-carried books. 

As back to school became a well-established annual sales opportunity, the backpack evolved to meet the desire of students to express their identity and affiliation through their choice of backpack.

The 60s also saw the emergence of the backpacker, a traveler whose luggage choice denoted both an ideological stance and a practical choice for rough and ready travel.

Today, the backpack is everywhere, from designer-label fashion brands to specialized professional equipment. As books give way to tablets, the backpack is evolving to incorporate new materials and evolving solar panel technology. (Source: Mahi Leather

Image from Time

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