From its humble beginnings at the end of the 19th century, Coca-Cola understood the power of branding. The company splashed its logo on anything that could be seen by potential customers in a retail setting, whether it was a tin or porcelain sign, a serving tray, or a decorative wall calendar.
The coolers that kept its beverages cold were no exception. Soda pop sold better when it was chilled, so it behooved retailers to keep their inventory of Coca-Cola bottles on ice. Prior to 1930 and the advent of electric coolers, that’s exactly what they did, mostly in round coolers made from wooden half barrels with wooden lids and the words “Drink Coca-Cola in Bottles” stenciled on the side. Other round, ice-cooled coolers, such as those manufactured by Icy-O, were made out of metal—customers simply lifted the tub’s lid and then paid the clerk for their frosty beverage.
By 1910, a Georgia bottler named George Cobb built the first coin-operated vending cooler for Coca-Cola. His Vend-all cooler held only 12 bottles, making it impractical for retailers, but the device was a proof of the concept. By the 1920s, numerous companies with names like Freez a Bottle, Icebergdip, and Walrus Cooler were producing Coca-Cola-branded coolers for retailers. Icy-O’s, which ranged from floor models to ones that were designed to sit on a counter, held from 72 to 120 bottles—some featured a compartment for empties, which were cleaned and refilled.
Throughout most of the 1920s, Coca-Cola sat on the sidelines as third-parties made coolers for its products, but in 1928 it hired a sheet-metal manufacturing firm called Glascock Bros. to design and build a cooler that it could sell to retailers. By 1929, the rectangular Glascock cooler, with an iced box above and angled racks for empties below, was ready. Coca-Cola sold 32,000 of them at $12.50 apiece in that introductory year.
Glascock Bros. produced numerous versions of the design. Some were described as “Standard,” others were galvanized for “All Weather” use, a “Portable” model featured three wheels (two large ones up front, plus a small one in the rear for steering), and its boxy “Enclosed Base” version hid the unsightly racks of empties from view.
Coca-Cola collectors look for these Glascock coolers, of course, but some also seek the salesmen samples of them, which were produced by the hundreds. Measuring not much more that a foot in height, these handsome miniatures were carefully painted and even featured tiny racks and even-smaller bottles that fit in them.
Electric coolers followed in 1930, but the first ones were too expensive for most retailers—Glascock’s initial electric cooler cost a whopping $150. But electric cooler were obvi...
As with the Glascock coolers, Westinghouse produced salesman samples of its machines—due to their diminutive size, these items are sometime more popular with collectors than the real thing, which require a lot of room to store and were subject to a fair amount of wear and tear. Some of the Vendo samples were produced out of die-cut folded paper.
Another cooler-related miniature is the Cooler Savings Bank, which cooler salesmen would give to their retailer customers to encourage them to save for a cooler of their own.
After the war, coolers, even the popular Cavalier models, slowly but steadily gave way to modern vending machines. But in one arena, the picnic, coolers still served a purpose. Most insulated Coca-Cola picnic coolers from the 1940s and ’50s are red, but some are clad in metal while others are wrapped in vinyl to make them more lightweight.