Debrilla M. Ratchford for Al Copeland Humanitarian of the Year

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Debrilla M. Ratchford, an airline stewardess, received U.S. Patent #4, 094, 391
for her invention of a suitcase with wheels and transporting hook in 1978.

Ratchford must surely stand as the most underrated inventor of the late 20th Century.

Some JPGB readers must be old enough to remember the bad old days when going to the airport meant lugging around a heavy bag. I remember a trip I made to England in the early 1990s, and my suitcase was just killing me. I happened across a store in London that sold a primitive add on device merely to emulate a modern suitcase with wheels and a telescoping handle (with elastic bands to bind the case).

I happily shelled out whatever it took to buy that contraption. My life as a tourist instantly improved. Mind you, it was terrible compared to a modern bag, but it beat the living daylights out of suffering as a human pack animal.

Strangely enough, America had sent a man to the Moon before inventing a decent roller bag. I’m all for guys jumping around in low gravity and planting flags, but to me, the roller bag is much more important advance in human civilization.

I can scarcely imagine modern business travel without the carry-on roller bag. Hop on the plane, stow your bag, land and hit the ground running. For you strange people still checking bags, **ahem**, catch a clue. You’ll be suprised how much you can stuff into a carry-on with a suiter for hanging clothes.

Sometimes it is the little improvements that make a big difference in life. Companies guided by the invisible hand of the market popularized and improved upon the Ratchford design, and now I don’t have to sit around bored out of my mind waiting for luggage. Better yet, luggage can now be renamed “rollage.”

If someone can name a Nobel Peace Prize winner that has had a more beneficial impact on my life than Debrilla Ratchford, I’d love to hear who and how. I’m sure there are some wonderful people on that list but amidst all those grandees, they will have had to have done something very special for me to appreciate them more than Ratchford.

I’m talking about something on the order of inventing Tex-Mex or College Football to even get in the neighborhood.

7 Responses to Debrilla M. Ratchford for Al Copeland Humanitarian of the Year

  1. Greg Forster says:

    Nobel Peace Prize winners who have had a more beneficial impact on Matt Ladner’s life than Debrilla M. Ratchford:

    George C. Marshall (1953)
    Martin Luther King (1964)
    Andrei Sakharov (1975)
    Lech Walesa (1983)
    The Dalai Lama (1989)
    Shirin Ebadi (2003)
    Muhammad Yunus (2006)

    Other praiseworthy winners (who benefited humanity if not Matt Ladner personally):

    Carl von Ossietzky (1935)
    Elie Wiesel (1986)
    Aung San Suu Kyi (1991)
    Nelson Mandela & F.W. de Klerk (1993)

  2. matthewladner says:


    The benefit of most of these people to me personally is indirect and even slight. I’m happy that Lech Walesa helped bring down the Soviet Empire and that Yunus pioneered microfinance. None of that can begin to compare to the joy of not lugging around a suitcase.

    Of the list, I’ll give you MLK. He helped to bring down a system of Jim Crow that I certainly would have grown up in otherwise. I’d trade my rollerbag to keep him in the timeline.

    While these others were certainly wonderful people, by the purposely absurd standard I’ve chosen none of them begins to compare to the sublime utility I derive from Debrilla Ratchford’s underappreciated genius.

  3. Alsadius says:

    Other attempts at Nobel Peace prize winners more useful than Ratchford:
    – Teddy Roosevelt. Not for stopping the Russo-Japanese war, but for being such an amazing badass. A good story about someone willing to take a bullet to the chest, and then continue giving his speech for another hour, might be worth giving up roller bags.
    – The Red Cross. This one for reasons that are all serious-like.
    – Norman Borlaug, the guy who pretty much singlehandedly made it possible for the modern world to feed itself.
    – Linus Pauling, the guy who did a whole lot of the groundwork for modern chemistry.
    – Mikhail Gorbachev. Not only did he end the serious threat of nuclear war, he also went from being the leader of international Communism to being a Pizza Hut spokesman within a few years. Like Roosevelt, this is too utterly hilarious to pass up.

    Admittedly, I’m being entirely too serious for the spirit of this award. I know it’s a joke, and it’s even a funny one. Still, I think they all had as high of a positive impact on your personal life as the roller suitcase.

  4. Greg Forster says:

    Huh. I was sure Bourlaug and Pauling got one of the science awards rather than a Peace Prize, but you’re right, both got the Peace Prize. Pauling got it in addition to the Chem prize.

  5. matthewladner says:

    You guys are missing the point. I’m a libertarian. It’s all about ME and I hate waiting for luggage and carrying bags!

    Mikey Gorbachev? C’mon! The Soviet Union would have fallen anyway! 🙂

  6. Alsadius says:

    Yeah, Matthew, it probably would have. But the last General Secretary of the Soviet Union…in a Pizza Hut commercial? That is a concrete gain to my life.

  7. matthewladner says:

    True that

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