Brief History of Carpetbags and Carpetbaggers

With the rapid expansion of railroads in the 1840s and 1850s, ordinary people were traveling in large numbers, and there was a need for cheap luggage, so thousands of carpetbags were manufactured. They were made by saddle makers in many towns and cities and were many sizes and shapes. They were called carpetbags because the makers would buy old carpets and construct the bags from the pieces of carpet that were not completely worn out. This is how carpetbags could be manufactured cheaply. They sold in Dry Goods for $1 to $2 apiece.

By the 1860s, carpetbags were carried by almost everyone, men, women, well-to-do, middle class and not so well-to-do. Carpetbags were the first suitcases made in large numbers. When you traveled during the Civil War (1861-1865) and though the 1870s, you packed your carpetbag. This became a way to identify an outsider (traveler) in town.

During the Civil War Reconstruction Period (1865-1870) many people from the Northern States moved South because there were many opportunities for a person to earn a little money. For example, you could own a farm by paying the past due taxes for as little as $25. These opportunities attracted all sorts of people from honest, hard-working farmers to crooks, charlatans, con artists and, of course, crooked politicians. All of these outsiders were called “Carpetbaggers” and this is a term still used in many places.

It also became a term to refer to a Yankee who moved to the South. Probably the worst Carpetbaggers were the politicians who used their positions in the corrupt Reconstruction government to enrich themselves through bribes, graft and other acts at the expense of native Southerners. Today the dictionary defines a Carpetbagger as “an outsider involved in politics.”