The Reliable Trunk & Bag Company, based in the downtown area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was founded by a group of seven men in December 1919. The company manufactured travel bags and trunks and steadily grew in size. One of the partners named Samuel L. Weiner (1897-1970) eventually bought out the others and took over sole ownership. With the location of his plant near Duquesne University slated for redevelopment in the late 1940’s, Weiner was forced to explore options for a new home.
Weiner, born to Jewish parents in eastern Russia (now modern-day Belarus), relocated the firm northward to West Pittsburg in 1950. He set up shop in a one-story building along Industrial Street formerly used by the Re-Ly-On Mattress Company. He added assembly lines and modernized his entire operation. The revamped firm began designing and manufacturing its own line of medium-priced luggage and soon had 250 employees. Weiner’s sons Jay and Leroy – and later his daughter Dorothy – also joined him in the management of the business.
In about 1956 the firm was renamed as the Reliable Luggage Company. A few years later, in the summer of 1959, the company acquired the adjoining warehouse recently vacated by Re-Ly-On Mattress. This endeavor was completed with the assistance of the non-profit Greater New Castle Development Corporation (GNCDC). Operations were expanded into the new building and about sixty new employees were hired.
During the 1960’s the Reliable Luggage Company experienced continued growth and its hard-shell Airway and Boyle Luggage lines were quite popular. By early 1968 the firm was also operating a plant near Los Angeles, California, making smaller travel accessories such as shaving kit cases. It also utilized that same plant to store luggage made in West Pittsburg to be distributed on the West Coast. It acquired the rights to several additional brand names to include Osh Kosh and Atlantic Luggage and opened a smaller operation, known as Travel Products, in West Pittsburg that manufactured briefcases. In late 1969, nearing the fiftieth anniversary of its founding, the name of the parent firm was changed to Airway Industries Inc.
In May 1970 company founder and patriarch Samuel L. Weiner, at the age of seventy-three, passed away in New Castle. He was a leading member of the local Jewish community and a distinguished member of the Tifereth Israel congregation. He was laid he rest in the Anshe Lubovitz Cemetery in Shaler Township near Pittsburgh.
His civic-minded sons continued to run the business out of West Pittsburg. His oldest son Jay Weiner became Chairman of the Board, while son Leroy Weiner assumed the role of President. The company, with over 600 employees, thrived during the early 1970’s and grew to become the nation’s third largest manufacturer of luggage. The firm’s Atlantic Luggage series became its most profitable line.
In April 1976 the corporate headquarters and majority of the West Pittsburg operation was relocated to the former Mathews Conveyor/Rexnord plant on Factory Avenue in Ellwood City. The new Ellwood City plant began a shift in manufacturing towards wheeled “soft-shell” luggage, while briefcases and hard-shell luggage continued to be produced in West Pittsburg. The company was split into two divisions – Atlantic Luggage and Austin House Travel Accessories. The facilities at West Pittsburg were slowly phased out and closed by 1980. REMACOR leased and then purchased most of the former luggage manufacturing facilities in West Pittsburg.
The early 1980’s saw the domestic luggage industry suffer due to inexpensive imports and the company began steadily laying off employees. In August 1984 it was announced that Airway Industries was ceasing all manufacturing operations, but would continue to sale imported luggage bearing the Atlantic name. As a result of this move several hundred skilled employees lost their jobs in late 1984.
The year 1984 also featured the untimely death of President Leroy Weiner at the age of fifty-five. His brother Jay, as Chairman of the Board and President, continued to run the company until he retired in 1996. At some point the company, after about five decades of ownership by the Weiner family, was sold to Cerberus Capital Management of New York City.
Airway Industries continued to struggle and a suffered a huge blow in September 2004 when it lost the contract to supply J. C. Penney with medium-priced luggage. Airway Industries filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2006. A buyer came forward and Travelpro USA of Boca Raton, Florida, officially acquired the company a few months later. About half of the remaining seventy-five employees were let go in late February 2006, while the remainder stayed on during a transition period. The operations at Ellwood City were phased out in the coming months and the luggage plant on Factory Avenue was shuttered. The facility was quickly sold and became the new home of Adams Manufacturing in October 2006.
To read the obituaries of founder Samuel Weiner and his sons Jay and Leroy click on: SAMUEL WEINER OBITUARY and JAY WEINER OBITUARY and LEROY WEINER OBITUARY.
The Reliable Luggage plant in West Pittsburg. (c1963)
The Reliable Luggage plant was opened on Industrial Street in West Pittsburg in 1949. (1973)
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Reliable Luggage, later known as Airway Industries, operated in West Pittsburg from 1949 until about 1980. Operations were relocated to Ellwood City beginning in 1976. (1975)
Airway Industries relocated to Factory Avenue in Ellwood City beginning in April 1976. This building on 10th Street in Ellwood City served as the new corporate headquarters and also as a retail store. The local firm was closed down in 2006. (1984)
Skilled workers, many being females, handcrafted suitcases and other bags at Reliable Luggage for many years. Reliable/Airway Industries stopped manufacturing its own luggage in 1984. (c1984)