In the 1950s, the American dream expanded to include not just a house and automobile, but coolers and ice chests, too. Insulated coolers displaying the brand names and logos of beverages became a must-have accessory for backyard barbecues and camping trips, keeping their contents cold on hot summer days.

Coca-Cola originally hired a sheet-metal manufacturing firm called Glascock Bros. to create a specialized Coke cooler that could be sold to individual retailers in 1928. The following year, Glascock started making its rectangular shop cooler, with an iced box above for full sodas and an angled rack for empties below. Coca-Cola sold 32,000 of them at $12.50 each during their first production year.

After 1930, electric coolers became common in convenience stores, but portable ice-chests thrived among consumers who wanted to transport cold drinks. Whether they were spending a day at the beach or hiking in the mountains, these lighter coolers kept folks refreshed while on the go.

From soda-pop brands like Royal Crown and Dr. Pepper to beer labels like Budweiser, Schlitz, and Coors, beverage companies found the picnic cooler a perfect way to reinforce their marketing efforts. Soft-drink makers often used bright colors to distinguish their coolers, with red for Coke, blue for Pepsi, yellow for Squirt, and green for 7-Up.

Meanwhile, outdoor-gear manufacturers like Coleman, Skylander, Thermos, and KampKold designed coolers explicitly for families headed out into nature. Most of these were built with a clamp-secured lid, a large carrying handle, and a small drainage spout on one end. Others were made in a tall cylinder shape, by brands like Little Brown Chest, Revelation Cooler, Western Field, Thermaster, and Pleasure Chest.

In addition to Glascock Bros., companies like Hemp & Co., Westinghouse, and Progress Refrigerator made smaller Coca-Cola coolers in a variety of styles. Progress was one of the largest mid-century cooler producers, whose designs were made from steel with a galvanized liner to prevent rusting. Some even included a sandwich tray in the interior compartment to keep chilled food from getting wet.

The company’s standard A1 model was made throughout the 1950s, with reinforced chrome corners and a handle mounted on the lid for easy removal. The A1 fit neatly on top of a unit...

Progress advertised its portable coolers straight to drink manufacturers, with ads highlighting trends in outdoor recreation and car-based travel. “Cars on the highway have hit an all-time high! Hunting and fishing license sales have broken all records! Outdoor living…bar-b-q’s…picnics…are at the peak of popularity! These trends have created a vast, new market for soft drinks!”

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