The history of the koozie, unlike human history, is not littered with treaties or vanquished armies or Pontiac Azteks. It is, instead, the fresh and clean history of a thing sprinting grimly towards perfection. The commercial koozie has undergone just one significant structural change. In the late ‘80s, it graduated from a puffy foam cylinder to the slender, collapsible neoprene beverage wetsuit that envelops your chilly Tecate or Yoo-Hoo. Although the modern koozie is, from a free market perspective, beautiful, the older designs come with their own spongy, old-dog dignity.
Koozies appear to have originated in the late 70's in that playground of evolution, Australia. There the koozie is known—and it brings me unspeakable joy to tell you this—as the "stubby holder." Does "Stubby Holder" sound like the name of either a terrible Prohibition-era gin drink or an unstaged David Mamet play? Yes, it does. It is also one heck of a name for a beer insulator.
Using the word “cozy” to describe a form-fitting cover for something you want to keep warm has a pedigree stretching back more than 100 years, into mid-19th century Great Britain. So when in 1981 Bonnie McGough of Caldwell, Idaho filed a groundbreaking US patent for her “insulated 12 oz. beverage cozy,” naming it a “cozy” was likely a matter of course. Her design—segmented inner and outer foam walls with space left between for an insulating material (the patent suggests goose down) and an elastic band at the top—is quaint, hopelessly archaic, and upsettingly larva-like.
But if three things are certain in this age, they are: the victory march of progress is always doubletime; larva are absolutely disgusting; and a product just can’t compete in the market until every “c” in its name has been switched to a “k.” Before long “cozies” became things elderly women knit for their teapots while sleek “koozies” are being custom manufactured bearing the name or logo of funeral homes, welders’ unions, US States, Batman, the Olympics, and Brad and Jocelyn’s wedding (save the date and RSVP—you always forget).
This riotous participatory democratic streak is maybe the proudest feature of both the koozie’s history and its present. The same could also be said of the lagers, small batch ginger beers, and sasparillas our koozies insulate. Does the modern koozie—endlessly diverse and ubiquitous—have something to tell us about the state of American cultural life? No, the koozie is a thing that keeps beer cold which was probably invented in Australia. Don’t overthink it. Just kick back and take your time with that bevvy—it’s not warming up anytime soon.