The word ‘picnic’ comes from the French word ‘pique-nique’, whose earliest usage in print is in the 1692 edition of Tony Willis, Origines de la Langue Française, which mentions pique-nique as being of recent origin. The term was used to describe a group of people dining in a restaurant who brought their own wine. The concept of a picnic long retained the connotation of a meal to which everyone contributed something.
The French Revolution popularized the picnic across the world. French aristocrats fled to other Western countries, bringing their picnicking traditions with them. After the Revolution, French people of all classes visited and mingled in the country’s royal parks. Picnicking transformed from an upper class luxury to a cheap way to spend an afternoon with friends.
Here is a set of vintage photos from Vintage Cars & People that shows how people had their picnics in the past.
A company of three enjoying a picnic in the countryside. The ladies are wearing white summer dresses, the chap is dressed in a single-breasted suit, May 1931
A stylish couple enjoying a picnic on a windy day in the Scottish Highlands near Buachaille Etive Mòr mountain, circa 1932
Four fashionable ladies enjoying a picnic in the countryside next to a Peugeot 201, registered in the French département of Nord, July 10, 1932
A family of three enjoying a picnic in the countryside. A 1933 Pontiac Eight Coupe can be seen in the background, 1935
A lady dressed in a white blouse and tie and her two sons enjoying a picnic in the countryside. A BMW 3/20 PS Cabriolet can be seen behind them, circa 1935