Porter (carrier)

A porter, also called a bearer, is a person who shifts objects for others.

Historical meaning

Human adaptability and flexibility early led to the use of humans for shifting gear. Uneven terrain, such as in mountains, alleyways and markets, and a lack of formed roads, such as in jungle, makes the use of porters economical where one can hire people to shift inexpensively.

Porters were used commonly as human beasts of burden
Pack animal
A pack animal or beast of burden is a working animal used by humans as means of transporting materials by attaching them so their weight bears on the animal's back; the term may be applied to either an individual animal or a species so employed...

 in the ancient world, when labor was generally cheap, especially in societies that depended on slavery. The ancient Sumer
Sumer was a civilization and historical region in southern Mesopotamia, modern Iraq during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age....

ians, for example, enslaved women to shift wool and flax.

The use of bearers for litter
Litter (vehicle)
The litter is a class of wheelless vehicles, a type of human-powered transport, for the transport of persons. Examples of litter vehicles include lectica , jiao [较] , sedan chairs , palanquin , Woh , gama...

s to shift persons of rank or religious idols, especially in formal processions, seems to have extended their practical function into that of ceremonial status symbol in the often conservative protocol of court and cult, a role continued into the 20th century with the papal sedia gestatoria
Sedia gestatoria
The sedia gestatoria is a portable throne on which Popes were carried until 1978. It consists of a richly adorned, silk-covered armchair, fastened on a suppedaneum, on each side of which are two gilded rings; through these rings pass the long rods with which twelve footmen , in red uniforms, carry...

and possibly echoed in the modern funeral pallbearer
A pall-bearer is one of several funeral participants who helps carry the casket of a deceased person from a religious or memorial service or viewing either directly to a cemetery or mausoleum, or to and from the hearse which carries the coffin....


Current meaning

Porters are still employed to shift burdens in many third-world countries
Third World
The term Third World arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned with either capitalism and NATO , or communism and the Soviet Union...

, especially where animals like camels, oxen, horses and dogs, or vehicles like carts, trucks, ships, trains and aircraft, have not taken over human bearers' traditional functions or where such alternatives are not practicable. Child soldiers are also typically compelled to serve as porters.

The Sherpa people of Nepal
Nepal , officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a landlocked sovereign state located in South Asia. It is located in the Himalayas and bordered to the north by the People's Republic of China, and to the south, east, and west by the Republic of India...

 have established a reputation as mountaineering
Mountaineering or mountain climbing is the sport, hobby or profession of hiking, skiing, and climbing mountains. While mountaineering began as attempts to reach the highest point of unclimbed mountains it has branched into specialisations that address different aspects of the mountain and consists...

 porters, and are considered indispensable for the highest Himalayan expeditions.

Porters who work at railway stations in India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 are called coolies, a term for unskilled Asian labourers. The term "coolie" was also used in China for porters in general.

The term "porter" is also used in general for hotel
A hotel is an establishment that provides paid lodging on a short-term basis. The provision of basic accommodation, in times past, consisting only of a room with a bed, a cupboard, a small table and a washstand has largely been replaced by rooms with modern facilities, including en-suite bathrooms...

, railway, hospital
A hospital is a health care institution providing patient treatment by specialized staff and equipment. Hospitals often, but not always, provide for inpatient care or longer-term patient stays....

 and airport
An airport is a location where aircraft such as fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, and blimps take off and land. Aircraft may be stored or maintained at an airport...

 employees who shift luggage.

In many public places such as airports, border crossings, sea ports and railway stations, porters are often a nuisance to tourists, shifting their luggage without permission and demanding excessive fees.

North American terminology

The industry-specific terms bellhop
A bellhop, also bellboy or bellman, is a hotel porter, who helps patrons with their luggage while checking in or out. Bellhops often wear a uniform , like certain other page boys or doormen...

 (hotel porter), redcap (railroad station porter) and skycap
A skycap is a porter employed by an airport and provides the following service to airline passengers:* Handles luggage* Perform curb side check-in* Works for tips...

 (airport porter) are used in North America. Railroad porters traditionally wear distinctive red-colored caps for easy identification, contrasting with the caps in blue or other colors, normally worn by other train personnel. Employees of car rental
Car rental
A car rental or car hire agency is a company that rents automobiles for short periods of time for a fee...

 and new and used auto dealerships tasked with shifting and preparing cars for use or sale are called porters.
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