San Francisco has a good claim to be the home of the bicycle messenger. Founded in 1945, Sparkle’s was the first modern courier company before the global explosion of the messenger business in the 1980s. The City by the Bay can, likewise, claim to being the host for one of the first, and undoubtedly one of the most iconic companies to make the messenger bag: Timbuk2.
A version of the waterproof, single-strapped backpack can be traced back to the 1950s New York, where it was used by the city’s linesmen to carry their tools while scrambling up telegraph poles. New York bicycle messengers seem to have adopted the bags at the beginning of the 1980s.
Over on the West Coast, Timbuk2 (or originally Scumbags), was born out of the messenger subculture itself, as it was the brainchild of the seasoned courier Rob Honeycutt. The bag’s distinctive three-panel design, eye-catching ‘swirl’ logo and reputation for durability quickly won them a fanatical following among San Francisco’s vibrant courier community.
During the 1990s, the messenger bag quickly migrated into wider society as a youthful urban fashion accessory. Couriers were fit and cool, and the bags practical design, slick looks and tough fabrics made them just as appropriate for the sidewalk as for the street.