For most of us, a picnic table is simply something that comes with the campsite we choose for the night. It’s just there, and we give no more thought to it than that.
But, like all things, the picnic table has a history. Probably the most interesting thing about the picnic table is that it is largely unchanged since its present design was established about 80 years ago.
The picnic table evolved from the “blanket,” which was used in the 1800s and earlier to mark a picnic site — a domestication of the ground surface. Spontaneously laying down the blanket was the first act of claiming the picnic site before any of the supplies were unpacked or the occupants seated. It was the spot. The gesture was temporary; when the meal was over, the blanket was removed, shaken free of crumbs, and returned to the provisions basket — one last ritual before the party ended.
In the late 1800s, some entertaining recreationalists began experimenting with making a table as portable as the basket and blanket. Eventually, the tables were built as permanent structures in what were called “picnic groves.”
But along the way, the design was modified into its present form in about 1930. As you can see in the cartoon from 1928, early designs did not always work properly. Note the straight legs as opposed the slanted ones that came later.
This information comes from an article called “An Illustrated History of the Picnic Table.” Take a few minutes to read it. It’s fascinating.