The Fascinating History of Picnics in the US

Custom balloon arch at picnic event

Picnics have evolved over many centuries and across multiple continents. The word “picnic” emerged in 1692 but it would take nearly 100 years for picnics to take on their current meaning. In 1789, royal parks became public and picnics became a popular family activity. The picnic also became a popular activity among businesses and corporations.

Corporate picnics began as BBQ events in public parks, featuring food and socializing. Competitive games like the potato sack race, water balloon toss, and hula hoop competition were later added to the company picnic and helped bring employees and leadership together.

The season five finale of the popular show “The Office” immortalized the classic company picnic, even including a volleyball tournament.

Companies like Microsoft and Nike also embraced the corporate picnic trend in the 1990s, hosting picnics for hundreds and even thousands of employees.

Popular American Picnic Traditions
Over the years, a few picnic activities, themes, and foods became established traditions in American culture.

The Fourth of July Picnic, for example, is centered around BBQ, burgers, beer, and fireworks. Believe it or not, in the 18th century, Americans had turtle soup, pigeon, and poached salmon with egg sauce. Clearly, our tastes have changed over the past few hundred years!

The hot dog has German roots. The frankfurter came to the US in the 19th century and was later renamed the hot dog. It has become a popular food at sports games, street fairs, and even picnics. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously served the UK’S King George VI his first hot dog at a picnic.

The Southern picnic is tied to the thriving southern pork industry of the 1800s. The tradition became something Americans did for church parties, political rallies, and social gatherings. Popular foods included fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits, ribs, cornbread, and sweet potato pie.

Deviled eggs are a staple dish at picnics today. The picnic favorite actually dates back to ancient Rome, where it was served to the wealthy class as the first course of a meal.

The potluck’s roots go back to medieval Europe. However, it became popular in the US during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Guests brought a meal to the picnic or dinner party to ease the financial burden on the host.

Last but not least, the macaroni salad began appearing in American cookbooks at the beginning of the 20th century. The modern version of the macaroni salad emerged around the 1960s.

If this list of picnic foods has your mouth watering, call Picnic People to start planning your next picnic in San Diego — whether you’d like to celebrate with family or your company.

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