By Eric Jackson
The ice cooler, a simple box that holds ice, insulating it to keep it from melting too quickly, and holding other contents to keep them cold. So simple, yet implementation has always been so far from the ideal, and innovations were far and few between.
It all started in 1637 when Sir William Berkley, governor of Virginia was granted a patent to collect snow and ice and keep it in pits, caves, and cool places that would prevent it from melting quickly. He had a monopoly for selling snow and ice in England for the next 14 years.
However, it was not until the late 1700’s in Philadelphia, where the Chestnut Street Hotel built an underground “Ice House” and served their own special “Punch” every day with a block of ice to keep it cold. Thomas Jefferson wanted the advantages of cold drinks and paid a shilling per day to have access to some of the hotel’s ice. Others in Philadelphia began copying and trying to improve on the Ice House; some learning more about insulation, some not. Even George Washington tried to copy the ice house built by Robert Morris, which was at the presidential mansion (in Philadelphia) at his Mt. Vernon house in Virginia, but couldn’t keep ice past May in the warmer climate. Washington attempted to improve upon his ice house, moving the door to the north side, beating his ice to small pieces, and some feeble attempts at additional insulation that got him three more months before it all melted. He was keeping ice until August, while his friend, Morris, who built the ice house in the presidential residence, was able to keep ice through October.
By 1799 most plantations in the south had ice houses modeled after the Morris built ice house in Philadelphia. New England began the ice trade, shipping ice from the north to the south in a bed of sawdust. Various sizes, shapes, and construction of the “ice house” were being made, but none were portable. By the late 1800’s smaller ice boxes/cabinets were being built for urban dwellers, and the average house went through a ton of ice each year.
Ice boxes were made from simple wood, lined with everything from seaweed, sawdust, tin, zinc or other metals that didn’t corrode. Every day one of the chores was to empty the “drip pan” where the melted ice ended up. The ice house was a thing of the past by 1900 as the ice distribution business became efficient enough to fill most ice boxes on a bi-weekly basis. New England was still the ice capital of America, however with the invention of the refrigerator in 1920 and popularized by the 1930’s made this business obsolete. One early adapter, Joe Thompson, began shipping the ice he was still selling with fruit, milk, and other perishables to subsidize his dwindling business. He also opened a small shop that opened at 7am and closed at 11pm and later became known as the first “convenience store”. He named it the “Seven-Eleven.”
Finally in the USA, in the 1950’s Richard Laramy filed a patent for the “Portable Ice Chest” and the Coleman Company sold it commercially and made it a house hold name. (one of the finalists for the Inspiration Awards at Outdoor Retailer next week- and coincidentally along side of Jackson Kayak/Orion Coolers, and Patagonia… hmm… how cool is that!) While we call it a cooler today… it is called a “Chilly Bin” in New Zealand, an “Esky” in Australia. The 1950’s coolers were metal, with insulation in between the two layers. Insulation, how much, and what kind; became very much understood as the link between how long your ice would last. However, what kind of performance people expected from an ice cooler was very limited for the next 50 years.
Coolers varied from very effective all foam coolers, some that were very thick, well insulated, but no durable, to promotional coolers that were sold for $1 and worked for a picnic or two before breaking apart. The cooler business
Sometimes you can’t help yourself, you are obsessed with an idea, a concept, something you think will make the world a better place, even if only be a small amount.
The ice cooler from the 1960’s until the last 10 years got stale. They became household items, with companies like Igloo becoming one of the staple brands selling as many as 20 million coolers/year. Yeti, changed the game in 2006 when it focused on quality and performance. Yeti made two simple innovations that were so obvious, so in front of everyone’s face that nobody saw it. Yeti root-molded their coolers, like a whitewater kayak, to make it much more durable. They also increased the level of insulation to make the ice last much longer, and finally they beefed up latches, hinges, drain plugs, and handles to make it a piece of equipment that could last, versus the cheapest cooler on the market, that was like all of the rest.
Since 2006, numerous brands have looked at the success Yeti has had and said, “Hey, I can make a cooler just like the Yeti Cooler, but even cheaper than they do!” This is an admirable quality for any manufacturer to figure out how to make something we all want even cheaper, but there is another admirable quality- how to make something better and give the customer an even better piece of equipment, one that lasts, one that functions in ways that a cooler never functioned before.
In 2014 Orion Coolers was born to its parent company, Jackson Kayak. Jackson Kayak has a long history of re-inventing what a product looks like, functions like, and how it is made. Our whitewater kayaks are the only ones where no holes are drilled into the hulls to attach our outfitting, something that 11 years later, we are still the only brand that has boats that don’t leak or break due to drilling as many as 11 holes in the hull (industry average). When we started making fishing kayaks in 2011 we took the same approach, the only approach we believe in (if you can’t make it better, much better, don’t make it). We brought the fishing world kayaks that you can stand on, and kayak with high seating positions for fishing from. So simple, yet nobody was doing it. Who wants to fish sitting down at water level all day? Nobody will do it today, but before Jackson Kayak, that was the only option. Now, you can fish sitting up high and see into the water, cast freely, and at any time, you can stand up and fish from our standing platform that is standard on all fishing kayaks.
In 2014 after over a year making coolers for the Orca Brand and watching them approach the cooler business much like Yeti, with a made in the USA (by Jackson Kayak at the time) advantage, our team, lead by Dave Olson, decided that we could do it much better. That the cooler was not at the pinnacle yet, that performance features were still missing, that the manufacturing still had lots of room for improvement, and that they could look much nicer than they did then… Orion Coolers was born. Our product manager, Damon Bungard, avid fisherman, hunter, whitewater kayaker, and outdoorsman in every sense was appointed our Brand Manager and in charge of conceptualizing an ice cooler that answered the needs of the enthusiast, and the casual user. We worked with a local design engineer to do the CAD work, and help us with materials, aesthetics, and function. A year of hard work producing good ideas, bad ideas, and adopted ideas, and ideas that were tabled for now. Finally our first cooler, the Orion 65 was completely designed right here in the USA, in TN. We made the plugs, and aluminum molds, and steel molds, and one part at a time until the entire coolers was ready to produce. The innovations were astounding enough that our first trade show, last week, had the bow hunting show (ATA) had the media, dealers, hunting TV show hosts and guides and other brands complete attention.
How does a cooler improve over what is available today, which is much better than what was available 10 years ago?
Starting with what you see:
- Camo Colors: The Orion Cooler is rotomolded using the same type of ovens we make our whitewater and fishing kayaks on, that allow us to make multi-color boats. Rock and Roll ovens. This type of oven is not as fast at making parts, but has great control for making multi-color parts. We are the only brand making multi-color coolers, because we are the only brand made in the USA with Rock and Roll ovens. Our competitors are mostly made in China (except Orca) and using multi-arm ovens that can only make solid colors.
- Latches: Stronger, more effective, and easier to use latches that look awesome- our latching system is a cam system that is both much easier to open and close, but also creates a tighter, stronger seal, and the latches are perfectly recessed to both look great and also not catch on anything.
- Metal Corner Tie Down pieces: The metal corners are such a visual differentiator that just look bad-assed, I think. However, they are there for a reason. Each corner piece can be used to tie the cooler down, keeping it in place in the back of your truck, on a raft, an ATV, etc.. Of course, that isn’t enough, they are also bottle openers. Yes, even the Canadians can be happy with 4 bottle openers on each cooler! Did I mention that you can open the lid while it it tied down tight? Yes, that is a little issue you might have with other’s coolers, getting into the cooler while it is tied down. Not the Orion.
- Yak-Attack accessory tracks on both sides: If you are not a big fisherman, or don’t have a Jackson Kayak fishing boat, you might now know what these things are. That will change over time, like learning what a USB plug is on a computer for the first time… Once you know what it is, you’ll have a dozen USB devices like hard drives, GoPro Cameras, etc.. The Yak Attack tracks allow you to attach accessories to your cooler. Cup holders, rod holders, phone/ipad holder, gps holder, gun holder, etc.. Yes, just look at our store online to find accessories that can be quickly added with no tools to this amazing cooler.
- Standing Pad- A cooler is also a stool, a seat, and a place to put things. Orion is the only brand with a standard standing pad. It is sharp looking with the Orion logo stamped into it. It is thick and provides good traction for standing on. Get extra height for casting on a boat, for hunting, or just loading your kayak onto roof of your truck. Sit down and have a nice, insulated, padded seat for two.
- Handles- strong, padded handles that look sharp and will last for a very long time.
- The metal Logo on the front- Orion- “hunter in the night sky” one of the very prominent constellations of the Northern Hemisphere. Our antlers are representative of a specific species of deer, but a mix and to be mysterious and bold. We just think it looks cool; enough said.
What you can’t see:
- Since George Washington’s frustration with running out of ice in June when his buddy Morris’ ice lasted until October, this has been a challenge for all of us. You buy a bag or two of ice and it doesn’t last long enough. The Orion Cooler comes with more insulation than any other brand. Just open the lid and look how thick the walls are. Each cooler is roto-molded in our Rock and Roll oven, and then carefully filled with a special high insulation value foam and each lid and cooler base inspected by hand. We balanced the goal of longevity of the ice (longest of any brand was the goal) and having a cooler that was still sized in a way to be functional, light, and portable. Thicker insulation means bigger external cooler size for the same internal size.
- Capacity: We are making a 25,45,65, and 85 quart capacity cooler set in 2015. Funny thing is that our 65 quart, for example, holds 65 quarts… that is not true for the other brands. The biggest brand offers a 65 quart model that is actually only 58 quarts! hmm… that is weird, and I don’t know why. Our coolers are, simply put, bigger. They hold more food and ice.
- Standard internal LED light and food tray. As we all know, some food we want to keep dry and out of the ice so it doesn’t get beat up, smashed, or wet. Our standard food tray can keep much of your stuff safe… some people even put their wallets and phone in there! The LED light operates with 2 AAA batteries (included of course :)) and can be removed from its holster to use as a camp light. When digging around for you favorite beverage by the campfire, the light will make things much easier.
I hope this article was educational and fun to read. I wanted to set the stage with some history of keeping food/ice, a very important challenge for hundreds of years. I hope you can see how we, at Jackson Kayak/Orion Coolers, think about innovation. We expect it, we demand it, we don’t create “Me Too” products and expect to succeed with them. If we can’t bring new ideas, new technology, new performance features to our products that are desired by the most extreme users of this product and by the layman, we don’t bother making it.
Orion Coolers just changed the game for the ice cooler. A major inflection point in design, innovations, and how the ice cooler will be perceived for years to come. Check one out today.