The history of backpacks, and by extension, the history of America, can be divided into three parts.
First came the Pre-Historic Era, which we will refer to as BB. Before Backpacks. I grew up during this era. Like generations of school children before us, including Johnny Appleseed and all four of the Little Women, we were backpack-less.
Full disclosure: I did personally spend most of my kindergarten year carrying an empty vinyl book satchel to and from school each day. But that’s only because I wanted to look like the on-trend Sears catalog model who also carried one.
By the time I had actual homework, I had ditched the satchel and switched to the standard protocol of the BB era. Using only our arms, we carried our books to and from school each day.
It worked well. There were even side benefits. For example, a boy might sometimes offer to carry your books for you. This is one of two ways you knew he liked you. The other involved a note passed from a friend with boxes to check.
Keep in mind: the BB era coincided with the BCP era. Before Cell Phones.
My point is, people didn’t worry too much about school during the BB era. Oh, some parents didn’t like the new math, and a kid could get in trouble for filling her desk’s pencil tray with Elmer’s School Glue. But back then, a C was still considered average, and the fake fingernails you could make with dried glue were totally worth the risk.
Which brings me to the Primitive Era of backpack history, which ran from roughly 1982 to 2010. The Primitive Era can be further broken into the discovery phase – the JanSport Period – followed by a phase of rapid change – the Powderpuff Period.
During the JanSport Period, backpacks originally designed for outdoor activities jumped species to college students, spreading rapidly through high schools, grade schools and down to the nation’s preschoolers.
Soon standard backpack designs were giving way to the Cartoon Network and Disney co-branding opportunities made famous during the Powderpuff Period.
As children outgrew those backpacks, they clambered for more. Which led to deeper pockets. Also, little zippered spaces. Bottle-holders. And even more compartments.
And sometime in the past decade or so – long after Elmer’s School Glue fingernails had dropped off the top 10 list of student infractions – the nation entered the current era in backpack history: the What-the-Heck Epoch.
This current period started when news stories began aappearing on the health risks of kids weighed down by backpacks. Those risks were addressed by adding wheels. And now, security concerns have since led some schools to require clear backpacks and some parents to choose bulletproof ones.
I honestly don’t know what’s next. I just wish we didn’t have to depend on backpack manufacturers to figure it out.