A Brief History of the Messenger Bag

It all Started on a Telephone Pole

The bicycle messenger bag, as we know it today, has its roots in New York City in the 1950s. Legend has it that Globe Canvas, owned and operated by the late Frank Demartini, began manufacturing heavy-duty canvas shoulder bags for telephone linemen. These bags were designed for easy access to tools and supplies while the linemen were suspended on telephone poles.

In the late 1970s, bicycle messengers in New York began using bags from Globe Canvas for their daily deliveries. In response to increasing motor vehicle congestion in rapidly growing cities, the bicycle messenger profession grew. The bicycle messenger community developed an identifiable subculture, often associated with an irreverent attitude toward motor vehicles and traffic control signals.

The Bike Messenger Subculture Creates an Urban Fashion Trend

In the 1980s, small messenger bag manufacturers sprung up in various cities to address the needs of the growing profession, as well as interest from consumers who admired the bags worn by their messenger friends. Some of these early authentic bicycle messenger bag companies included Manhattan Portage (NYC, 1980), Zo Bags (San Francisco, 1984), Courierware (Boston, 1985), and Pac Designs (Toronto, 1989) and, of course, Timbuk2 (San Francisco, 1989)

Additional companies joined the fray in the 1990s, including Bailey Works (Portsmouth), Push (Toronto), Chrome (Denver), Roach (Vancouver) and RE.Load (Philadelphia). Each of these companies has enjoyed a local following and developed its own variations of the basic messenger bag design.

Over the years, the messenger bag has become a mainstream fashion accessory. The general appeal of the messenger bag stems from its working-class heritage, its carry-all utility, and its rugged, waterproof construction-plus its affiliation with the urban bicycle messenger subculture. Since bicycle messengers are both male and female, the messenger bag is one of the few shoulder bags to be embraced as a male fashion accessory.

Timbuk2 Ups the Ante

Timbuk2 has been especially influential in popularizing the messenger bag as an urban fashion accessory. We were founded in 1989 by a San Francisco bicycle messenger with an old sewing machine. His goal was to make a messenger bag rugged enough for real bicycle messengers, yet stylish enough to appeal to a broader market of young, hip urbanites as an alternative to the traditional two-strap day pack. Our catchy name, three-panel design, distinctive "swirl" logo, and the fact that we're "Made In San Francisco" added to our cachet.

We've also contributed our share of innovations to the industry. In 1994 we pioneered the concept of the built-to-order custom messenger bag, and in 2000 we launched the very first Build Your Own Bag™ Web site. In 2004, we introduced our latest innovation, Bag In A Box™, bringing custom bags to the retail environment in a clever package. In 2005 we launched our Pro-Series collection of messenger bags and backpacks, designed by a 9-year veteran of the San Francisco bicycle messenger scene. We continually pay attention to our messenger roots. Designing for such rugged individualists keeps our design skills sharp.

Our unwaivering passion for designing and manufacturing functional, rugged, stylish bags has made Timbuk2 popular among the authentic bicycle messenger bag brands. Today, our three-panel, tri-color design is an icon on the streets of San Francisco, and a common sight in many other cities worldwide.