Anatomy of a Classic

Hot Texan Summers Inspired an Iconic Cooler

“The summertime heat in Texas is no joke,” wrote a Texas Monthly advice columnist last summer when responding to a new resident of the state. “Jokes, after all, are typically funny.” What does that mean in specifics? Well, in Houston, the average high in June, July, and August is in the nineties, only dipping to a still-scorching 88°F in September—and this sweltering weather was a major factor when Igloo Products Corporation got its start a few years after WWII as a metal-working shop focused on serving the state’s oil and gas industries.

“The first product with the Igloo name was aimed at addressing a constant need in the oil patch: cool drinking water,” the reporter and seventh-generation Texan Shannon Thompkins explained in the Houston Chronicle. “Roughnecking and other manual labor under the brutal Texas sun is hard, thirsty work, and a supply of potable water is a constant crucial need. For decades, oil field worksite drinking water came out of wooden barrels hauled in wagons or, later, trucks.” The alternatives were fabric bags used by hunters and hikers. Ineffective, unwieldy, and unhygienic, wooden barrels and canvas bags weren’t cutting it.

Igloo’s first coolers were large, rounded metal canisters with insulation and the push-button spout you still see on their products today. Introduced in 1947, they were, per Thompkins, “a tough, durable, portable and perfect answer to providing a supply of drinking water. And if a chunk of ice—at the time much less generally available than today—was placed inside, the cans kept that water cool throughout the work day.” Less than a decade later, they were on job sites all over the state.

Igloo’s popularity exploded in the sixties, and that mostly had to do with two external factors: the rise of plastics, which gave them a new material to work with, and the interstate highway system, which put more Americans behind the wheel for road trips, vacations, and adventures. The first 100% plastic cooler came out in 1961, and the handled Playmate (bet you can picture it!) joined the collection a decade later. By the eighties, these bright-colored Igloos became integral to a quintessential NFL tradition: the Gatorade shower.

This year, Igloo introduced a fully biodegradable cooler that’s reusable, strong enough to hold up to 75 pounds, and an ideal alternative to the ubiquitous styrofoam coolers that end up in landfills and oceans. And though the company now sells internationally, Igloo is still based in the Lone Star State where they operate a 1,800,000-square-foot facility in Waller County. Because, it turns out, everything really is bigger—and hotter—in Texas.

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