For today’s kids, it must be difficult to imagine a time before backpacks. They’re ubiquitous in classrooms and on school buses around the country and have been for decades. But as late as the 1960s, they weren’t widely available. Back then, the simple act of carrying stuff to and from school was difficult. “Students had no choice but to tote their textbooks and notebooks around campus with their hands,” wrote backpack innovator Skip Yowell in his book, The Hippie Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder & Other Mountains. “Some tied a belt around them or clutched them to their chest as they walked. Either way, lugging study material was little more than a glorified juggling act—without the pay.”
What saved students from this avalanche of loose books and papers? The smart retooling of an existing product. Day packs, the smaller, lighter offspring of hefty hiking backpacks, were already popular among recreational climbers.
I didn’t know this: By the early ’70s, the sports shop inside the University of Washington bookstore started selling JanSport packs. . .
How about that, I was just there today. I remember in HS carrying my books in my hands. If you were a guy you’d carry them slung low down on your hip with one hand while the girls would sort of cradle them against their chest. I may have started using a backpack in late HS after my brother who had gone to college started using one. I know I had one when I started college in 1980. Back then, of course, you were only cool if you slung it over one shoulder. These days everyone seems to carry them on their backs, or some use the courier bags over one shoulder.