The portable ice chest was created by Richard C. Laramy of Joliet, Illinois. On February 24, 1951, Laramy put in an application with the United States Patent Office for a portable ice chest (Serial No. 212,573). The patent (#2,663,157) was given out December 22, 1953.
The Coleman Company popularized the cooler, at times known as an "ice box" in the United States, with its initial offering of a galvanized cooler in 1954. Three years after, Coleman developed a process to make a plastic liner for coolers and jugs.
In the United Kingdom the common title is a "cool-box". In the United States they are usually said to be a "cooler". In New Zealand they are generally named a "chilly bin", a genericized trademark; the common Australian name of "Esky" is also a genericized trademark.
Some of today's coolers are thermoelectric, plugging in to a car's cigarette lighter socket. Rather than implementing a compressor and refrigerant such as a refrigerator or other heat pump, these use the Peltier effect along with an external fan to draw away the heat. By reversing the current, this concept can also heat the contents instead of cooling them, useful for keeping meals hot from a drive-through, or even to keep items from freezing in extreme cold climates.
Thermoelectric coolers typically can drop the temperature by about 40°F or 22°C below ambient temperature, or can increase it by at least that much; this is really a function of the effectiveness of the insulation, due to the fact that sometimes it needs to be about 20% cooler. Some better units even implement digital thermostat controls. They do draw a lot of power, however, and can drain a car's battery so much so that it cannot start. Most electric coolers have an undervoltage shutoff at around 10 or 10.5 volts to stop this. Many come with power adapters, which implement an electronic transformer to convert AC mains or line voltage (100 to 240) down to 12 volts, with a lighter-like socket for the cooler's cord to plug in. Some also have a crossover-connection device to redirect backwards the current for heating service.