The term “Carpetbaggers” referred to Northern businessmen who relocated to the South following the Civil War. Although it was a pejorative term, many of these savvy-minded business folk played an important role in the Reconstruction era; helping to rebuild cities and towns decimated by hostilities from both sides. Unfortunately, the unscrupulous were among the throngs which descended upon our fair region, hence the derisive connotation.
Regardless, the term was originally derived from the bags favored by the majority of this group. They carried bags created from recycled carpet and carpet remnants – possibly the first iteration of mass carpet recycling in our history! These bags became popular for their durability and cost-effectiveness. They came into existence due to the need for inexpensive luggage following the advent of railroad expansion in the late 1800’s which allowed everyone, not just the wealthy, to travel across the country.
Saddlemakers eagerly jumped into the manufacturing of these carpetbags and they often sold for as little as $1.00 throughout the northeastern states. Since carpet remnants were readily available and affordable, carpet bags became the luggage of choice for travelers. That said, the unfortunate few who took advantage of denizens in the war-weary southern regions were responsible for the malign terminology toward these innocent bags.
Although the bags and those who carried them were regarded with suspicion, this did not negate the fact that these bags, which were actually the first mass produced luggage, were durable, accessible, available in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and designs and truly heralded and helped to usher in a new era in our country’s history.
Today, the dictionary defines ‘Carpetbagger’ as an “outsider; especially : a nonresident or new resident who seeks private gain from an area often by meddling in its business or politics.”* Although the term seems to have retained the negativity associated with the original definition, we now know that carpet bags played an important role enabling people of all backgrounds and economic means to traverse our land comfortably and in style!
*Definition from Merriam-Webster Dictionary online. See http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary.