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Staying cool for a 19th Century picnic

Today, many of us are probably familiar with insulated bags that help keep food cold, or even warm, until you get to your destination. But did you know there was a picnic basket in the nineteenth century that did something similar?

It was called Hare’s Patent Refrigerator Basket and is shown in this 1881 Conroy, Bissett & Malleson trade catalog, Illustrated Retail Price List, and Hand-Book for Sportsmen.

front cover of Conroy, Bissett & Malleson trade catalog showing a fish
Conroy, Bissett & Malleson, New York, NY. Illustrated Retail Price List, and Hand-Book for Sportsmen, 1881, front cover showing a fish.

Hare’s Patent Refrigerator Basket was lined with tin and “surrounded with a close packing of boiler-felt of the very best quality.” It also came with an air-tight lid. These picnic baskets were advertised as being “in fact, MINIATURE REFRIGERATORS, with Ice-Box all complete.” For this reason, fish, meat, butter, and other perishable food could be stored and transported to picnics or on trips in hot weather. It was also advertised as being secure enough that nothing from the food would “run out to soil the dress of the person carrying it.”

Hare's Patent Refrigerator Basket
Conroy, Bissett & Malleson, New York, NY. Illustrated Retail Price List, and Hand-Book for Sportsmen, 1881, page 49, Hare’s Patent Refrigerator Basket.

The refrigerator basket could be used all year-round. It was also advertised as a “WINTER DINNER-BASKET.” In cold weather, the ice-box could be removed for a hot meal to be placed inside. With the lid tightly closed, the food was kept at “nearly the same temperature for hours.”

Illustrated Retail Price List, and Hand-Book for Sportsmen by Conroy, Bissett & Malleson is located in the Trade Literature Collection at the National Museum of American History Library. This trade catalog also includes supplies for fishing and camping.

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