Ice packs are genius inventions that help us out with all our bumps and bruises. From childhood to adulthood, they’ve been here to make our lives a little more comfortable and keep our lunches cold. It may feel like they’ve always been around, but they’re a relatively new invention!

Throughout the ages, there have been several different styles of hot and cold packs that serve many different purposes. Some of the most popular styles include:

  • Instant Ice Packs
  • Vintage Ice Cap Bags
  • Hot Water Bottles
  • Hot and Cold Packs
  • Gel Ice Packs

From relieving pain to keeping food chilly, each version of the ice pack had a specific purpose for the time period it was invented. Let’s take a look at how ice packs came to be!

History of Ice Packs Timeline

How exactly did ice packs come to be? Take a moment to scroll through the history of one of the most useful inventions of our time!

  • 1805

    Wikipedia.org

    Frederic Tudor, known as the “Ice King,” was the first to use ice to improve the lives of others. At the age of 22, he realized people who live in warmer climates would benefit from having access to ice, so he harvested ice himself by cutting blocks out of a lake in Boston. A year later, he bought his own ship and sailed the ice to a Caribbean island.

  • 1820s

    YouTube.com

    Tudor created a business model out of his ice delivery idea and finally began to make a profit on his invention. He continued to transport ice around the world until he died in 1864.

  • 1890

    National Museum of American History

    The ice delivery business took off when John Gorrie filed the first patent for mechanical refrigeration. This invention made the business more efficient than ever before, paving the way to the opening of artificial ice plants.

  • Early 1900s

    Waco Tribune-Herald

    The ice industry took the world by storm. As more plants opened, they began to experiment with creating clear ice instead of foggy ice. The ice would be placed on wooden carriages, and an iceman would carve off pieces for customers. Orders were placed by writing how much ice you needed on signs and placing them in your house’s windows!

  • 1903

    The first rubber hot water bottles were invented by Eduard Penkala. They were used for aches and pains by people all across the United States. Penkala’s patented design featured a rubber stopper that prevented water from leaking out of the top.

  • 1920s

    LiveScience.com

    The first electric refrigerator with an ice cube compartment was released. While this refrigerator/freezer combo was sold in stores, it didn’t quite take off with consumers until about 1945. Even still, the ice cubes couldn’t serve all the needs of the consumer since they melted easily.

  • 1940s

    Etsy.com/FiretouchVintage

    If you wanted to ice an injury in the 1940s, most people turned to ice bags. They were rubber-lined fabric bags that could be filled with ice and sealed with a cap. While they were great for short-term use, they eventually became overshadowed by modern versions that did a better job at keeping the liquid contained inside.

  • 1950s

    To combat the annoyance of melting ice cubes, Albert A. Robbins patented the first instant ice pack in 1959. It was specifically designed for keeping food and drinks cold for a longer period of time. Gone were the days of not being able to keep your lunch fresh on-the-go!

  • 1960s-Present

    Livesmartohio.osu.edu

    Many larger companies have joined in on the ice pack business. Since then, longer lasting ice packs have been created for medical needs as well as specially designed options for lunch boxes, promotional campaigns, and cross-country shipping.

  • 1963

    Worthpoint.com

    Tudor created a business model out of his ice delivery idea and finally began to make a profit on his invention. He continued to transport ice around the world until he died in 1864.

  • 1980s

    Pinterest.com

    The lunch box, which had been on the market for around 60 years, started to take off in the 80s more than ever before. The plastic boxes were sturdy and more leak-resistant, so many started to include ice packs in their lunch boxes regularly.

  • 2009

    Packit.com

    Melissa Kieling patented the freezable lunch bag called PackIt in 2009 after being frustrated about her kids’ soggy lunches. The entire lunch bag is made of flexible ice pack material so you can stick it right in the freezer and not worry about putting a separate ice pack inside. It’s now a multimillion-dollar business!

  • 2019

    Frostytech.eco/enviro-ice

    It was only a matter of time until an eco-friendly ice pack was created, and that’s exactly what Frosty Tech came up with in 2019! Their patented ice pack features ingredients that can be “flash-frozen without deforming” and used as plant food when diluted with water. The material inside can even be poured down the drain or flushed down a toilet, as it contains a natural drain cleaner ingredient!

How Did They Have Ice in the 1800s?

Woods Hole Museum

In the 1800s, ice was chipped away from frozen lakes and ponds and shipped around the world by sea. Those who lived in areas with cold winters had the benefit of being able to chip away ice from the frozen bodies of water on their own. During the summertime, they relied on other parts of the world who were experiencing their winter at the time to ship some ice their way.

Once the ice arrived, it would be placed in a horse-drawn carriage and taken into local communities. If you wanted an order of ice, you would write how much you wanted on a piece of paper and place it in your window. That way, when the carriage showed up to your neighborhood, your local ice delivery man would know you wanted some!

Woods Hole Museum

Who Invented the Ice Pack?

The first ice pack was invented by Albert A. Robbins in 1959. His version was different than what we see today, as it was an “instant” ice pack meant for keeping food and drinks cold for short periods of time. The ice pack would stay at room temperature until the cooling effect was activated by cracking it. The ice packs weren’t reusable, so while they were great for short trips, they weren’t very cost-effective.

Years later, Jacob Spencer of Nortech Labs filed a patent for his own rendition of the instant ice pack in 1971. Spencer’s version was called “ThermaKool” and was specifically geared toward first aid and therapy. The ice pack would stay cold for 15 to 20 minutes and could be activated by popping the water bag inside the pack. Today, Nortech Labs partners with different distributors and health care professionals to ship their ice packs around the world.

Since many who use our product are children, we designed them with consumer safety in mind. All of our cold packs are latex-free and completely non-hazardous.

– Daniel Dunleavy, Marketing Director at Nortech Labs, Inc.

Who Invented the Hot and Cold Pack?

Popular Science

The first hot and cold pack was invented by Hot-R-Cold Pak, Inc. in 1948. In an issue of Popular Science, it was described as a “folding, wallet-size, plastic pouch containing a special liquid that stays either hot or cold of a long time.” The ice pack could be activated by placing it in the refrigerator, while the hot pack could be used after warming it in hot water.

In 1950, Hot-R-Cold Pak, Inc. was issued a Notice of Judgment by the FDA stating that the company inaccurately claimed one of their products could treat sinus conditions. While they continued to come up with new products, they were quickly overshadowed by Nortech Labs, who patented their own hot/cold gel pack in 1971. Nortech Labs’ version became the more popular option, and soon enough, hot and cold packs were being used across the globe. The rest is history!

Popular Science
Rhymeswithdaughter.com

What Did Early Ice Packs Look Like?

Rhymeswithdaughter.com

Before you could purchase ice packs with the freezable liquid inside, many people used a reusable fabric bag called an “Ice Cap” that you could fill with ice. In the 60’s, these were used for headaches, bumps, and bruises.

These vintage ice packs didn’t last very long because most of them couldn’t hold the water once the ice started to melt, but it was better than nothing! They came in a variety of patterns and colors, making them a collectible in modern times.


Take a look at some of the different styles!

When Were Rubber Hot Water Bottles Invented?

The first rubber hot water bottle was patented in 1903 by Eduard Penkala. It was a rubber bag that featured a plug at the top to keep the water sealed inside. Warm, but not boiling water could be poured directly into the hole at the top and it would stay warm for hours!

By the early 1900s, people across the country had already been using their own versions of these made out of brass or copper, but as you can imagine, the rubber version was much safer.

What Are Hot Water Bottles Used For?

Hot water bottles are used for all sorts of things! They’re especially great for relieving tension after a long and stressful day. There’s more to it than simply a little stress relief, though!

Today, hot water bottles are used for the following:

Earaches

Muscle pains

Cramps

Providing warmth in the winter

Anxiety relief

Easing stress and tension

Keeping your sleeping bag warm

The original copper bottles from the early 1900s were mostly used for warming a bed before getting into it. During a time when furnaces didn’t exist, these hot water bottles were a hot commodity. Today, hot water bottles are used for more than just cold bed sheets. They’re a necessity when it comes to aches, pains, and stress!

Are Ice Packs Toxic?

Most ice packs made today are not toxic. However, that doesn’t mean it’s safe to ingest the liquid or gel on the inside. Depending on the ice pack, ingesting the ingredients could cause mouth irritation, blood pressure issues, and more. If you suspect that ice pack materials have been ingested, you should contact Poison Control right away at 1-800-222-1222.

Have you ever wondered what the inside of an ice pack looks like? You’re not the only one. Watch this video to learn more!

Can You Take Ice Packs on a Plane?

According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), gel ice packs are permitted on planes as long as they are frozen solid when presented for screening. You can also keep gel ice packs in your checked luggage, even if it is not frozen when you arrive to the airport!

It’s difficult to say what the future holds for hot and cold packs. History has shown there are many different versions and inventions to be had. With unique product ideas out there like a freezable lunch bag, who knows what could be next?

The Bottom Line

It’s crazy to think we went from horse-drawn carriages bringing us our ice to packing reusable ice packs in our lunch boxes! No matter which way you spin it, the ice pack was a revolutionary invention. We wouldn’t have many of the tasty foods we have today if it weren’t for Albert Robbins handy innovation!

References

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Notices of Judgment Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. … Drugs and Devices, Issues 2671-5380. (1950).

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About the author

Kelsey Skager

Kelsey is a master of promotional products with over five years of marketing and industry experience. She is proud to have been featured on ABC 7 Chicago News and NPR.