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Freeport, ME, October 12, 2020

How the 1944 L.L.Bean Ice Carrier Became America’s Go-To Tote

From beaches to art studios to the streets of Tokyo and New York Fashion Week, the L.L.Bean Boat and Tote is ubiquitous as a heavy-duty carry-all and timeless style icon.

Originally created as the L.L.Bean Ice Carrier in Brunswick, Maine in the fall of 1944, the signature tote’s original purpose – like so many L.L.Bean products – was to be a problem solver. In the 1940s and 50s, most homes had only small freezers that were often thick with frost. This required Americans to buy and transport block ice from a distributor, which was then stored in a separate ice chest. The L.L.Bean Ice Carrier was the middleman – the means of toting the ice home. Made of heavy oatmeal-colored canvas and riveted where the handles met the edge, the bag was double layered on the base for extra resistance to abrasion and to keep meltwater in its place, preventing spillage during transport. Durability was so key that the tote was – and still is – made from the same ironclad material used in conveyor belts and tested to hold up to 500 lbs.

L.L.Bean Ice Carrier as featured in the 1944 Fall Catalog

Despite its ingenuity, the Ice Carrier seemingly disappeared from the Bean catalog after just one season, only to reemerge 20 years later in the summer of 1965 as the L.L.Bean Boat and Tote. Styled in nautical red and blue with a taller and more slender form, it quickly became the emblem of New England seaside life. Over time, the Boat and Tote would become L.L.Bean’s top-selling accessory with a vast product line that includes a range of colorways, sizes, models (open- and zip-top), customizations (including monograms) and limited-editions, like those created to honor U.S. national parks.

Still today, the Boat and Tote is made in L.L.Bean’s Maine manufacturing center by skilled stitchers who can fabricate a bag in just seven minutes. The key indicator of a L.L.Bean Tote is the V-point closures on the underside – a signature design detail and another form of reinforcement. It’s also the final design element – the “close” – on each Boat and Tote .

Limited-Edition Boat and Tote for The National Park Collection (featured: Acadia National Park)

“I love working with our Boat and Totes because there is a challenge in handling natural materials, as they can vary slightly in thickness or even in texture depending on the weather,” said Jean Gray, who has been stitching L.L.Bean Boat and Totes for more than 15 years. “A lot of the ‘closing’ process is done by feel. You rely on your experience to see how a tote is coming together as you close it, so you can make the best tote possible. I’ve stitched more than 250,000 Boat and Totes over the years, and they’re iconic because they never wear out and they can be used to carry anything.”

L.L.Bean Boat and Tote Collection, first introduced in 1965

For more than 75 years, the L.L.Bean Boat and Tote has transcended its wearer’s age, profession and destination – it’s one of the most versatile everyday bags that exists. Anchored by unfailing durability and a profile that only gets better with wear, the Maine tote is a timeless original.

Shop for your own L.L.Bean Boat and Tote and read more about our dedicated team who makes them.