Cold as Ice: History of the Portable Cooler

June 21, 2017

Cold as Ice: History of the Portable Cooler

Now that everybody’s unpacked their swim trunks and flip flops from their closet, it’s time to fill up the ‘ol cooler with a couple bottles of suds and hit the beach, lake, mountains, or wherever the heck you like to blow off steam in the summer. 

There’s nothing better than kicking back on a balmy day and sipping some cold beverages with friends. Simply put, it’s the bee’s knees. And to think that only sixty years ago you had to walk back to the house every time you wanted another drink! That’s right! The portable cooler is only sixty years old!

You’d think the portable cooler would have been invented earlier, given humanity’s love of crisp icy bevs, but hey, the history of invention and innovation is a tangled web full of knots and broken threads.

Despite the portable cooler’s late entry into the world, the invention quickly changed the game of how people picnic, relax, and party outdoors. Today you’d be hard pressed to find a home in America without a cooler. Let’s take a look at how this amazing invention came to be.

From War Time Needs to Post War Feeds

If you’re still scratching your chin over why it took so long for the cooler to be invented, the answer is that until the invention of Styrofoam in 1944, there wasn’t an affordable and functional insulating material. The invention of Styrofoam came about during WWII as an alternative to expensive imported rubber. Dow Chemical patented Styrofoam, which consisted of isobutylene and styrene.

Following the invention of Styrofoam, the first patent for a “portable ice chest” came in 1951, registered to Richard C. Laramy of Illinois. The now-famous cooler company Coleman immediately bought up the patent and brought the first portable cooler to market in 1957.

Coleman’s galvanized cooler featured interior and exterior plastic casings that surrounded a layer of insulating Styrofoam. Coleman’s portable cooler provided the first ever alternative to basic metal iceboxes.

This design proved so useful that it went virtually unchanged until the mid 90’s.

1995-Present: The Golden Age of the Portable Cooler

During the 90’s the world saw an explosion of different types of portable coolers. Basket coolers, for instance, became popular for a while among picnickers, due to their pleasant appearance. Thermal bags also became quite prevalent during this time, which consist of insulating material that keeps cold things cold and hot things hot.

Ride-on coolers also erupted in popularity, primarily for small businesses and entrepreneurs, such as beach town beverage salesman, etc. Today, you can get a ride-on portable cooler from Kreweser Co. that features brushless hub motors, 48 V battery, disk brakes, max speed of 15 mph, and a range per charge of 17 miles! Talk about a product evolving! That’s one sweet cooler!

Along with the mainstay companies Igloo and Coleman, luxury portable cooler companies such as Yeti have also achieved widespread acclaim in recent years, developing somewhat of a cult following. Yeti’s Tundra series of premium portable coolers range in size and price from $199 to $1299! 

The Yeti takes cooler technology to a whole new level, featuring two-inch walls of insulation, rotomolded construction, and pressure-injected polyurethane foam! It’s even bear proof! For real!

And if the Yeti still isn’t techie enough for you, you can purchase a thermoelectric cooler, such as the ARB, which doesn’t even require ice. You just plug her right in to your car’s cigarette lighter and boom, you have a stinking portable fridge / freezer in your backseat! Although, once you start going down this path you do lose the “portable” aspect.

Now, if you’re rolling your eyes at these intense feats of engineering and prefer something smaller for a backpacking trip or hike, then you’re also in luck! The basic tech behind portable coolers has also been applied to personal-use bottles, such as the Arctica Tumbler. These nifty cups feature a dual stainless steel vacuum insulated design that keeps your cold bevs freezing and hot drinks piping! You can even get a wine tumbler or Mule Mug for boozy days in the sun!

Needless to say, things have changed a lot since Coleman brought the first portable ice chest to market in 1951. To conclude, we’ll leave you with a doozy. The Coolest Cooler, which became the most pledged item ever on Kickstarter (raising +$13 billion!), features a built in blender, USB, Bluetooth speakers, LED lights, bottle opener, and foldout accessory deck!

Have things gone too far? Never! Long live hedonistic portable coolers!

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