The lunch box as we think of it today was born in 1935. That’s when a Milwaukee, Wisconsin, company called Geuder, Paeschke, and Frey licensed the likeness of a new cartoon character named Mickey Mouse for the top of its oblong-shaped “Lunch Kit.” The metal container was sealed at the top with a loop of stiff wire that doubled as a handle.

From that moment on, placing a character of any sort on the side of a lunch box (or lunchbox, as it is often spelled) became the standard for the lunch boxes children toted to school. Before long, the signal a lunch box sent to your peers could mark you as a cool kid or a dork, depending on if your PB&J was packed inside a Mike Mercury’s Supercar Orbital Food Container (Universal, 1962) or a Jonathan Livingston Seagull lunch box (Aladdin, 1973).

After blazing the licensed-lunch-box trail in 1935, Disney would go on to produce two-handled picnic-basket-shaped lunch boxes with Owens Illinois in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Many of these featured characters from “Pinocchio” and "Snow White” on red backgrounds.

In the 1950s, lunch boxes were produced in rectangular shapes and in domed versions. Increasingly, each lunch box was sold with a matching Thermos (although not all of these vacuum flasks, as they are generically known, were made by the Thermos company).

ADCO made a Disney lunch box with Mickey on one side and Donald Duck and his mischievous nephews on the other. That 1954 lunch box is highly prized by collectors—Aladdin’s “Mary Poppins” lunch box from 1965, alas, is not. Aladdin’s bright yellow, dome-topped Disney School Bus, however, was on the market from 1961 until at least 1973, selling as many as nine-million units during that profitable period.

Television characters and movie heroes proved perfect fodder for lunch boxes and their matching drink containers. Aladdin made Hopalong Cassidy lunch boxes throughout the 1950s, while American Thermos made nine styles of Roy Rogers lunch boxes between 1953 and 1957. During the same period, kids were also given space-age choices such as Aladdin’s “Tom Corbett Space Cadet” boxes in red or blue (1952).

The 1960s were even better for space imagery, from the imagined, cartoon future of “The Jetsons” (Aladdin, 1963) to the domed “Star Trek” containers made by Aladdin in 1968—these lunch boxes are much sought-after by Trekkies and lunch-box collectors alike...

Of course, not all lunch boxes were made out of metal. Companies made vinyl lunch boxes, too, which were basically shower curtains wrapped and sealed around pieces of cardboard. Needless to say, these flimsy products did not stand up well to being dragged to and from school every day for a year, which is why finding a vinyl lunch in good condition can take some doing.

Echoing, perhaps, the look of vinyl go-go boots, many vinyl lunch boxes from the 1960s featured pop stars on their outside surfaces. Especially collectible are lunch boxes emblazoned with likenesses of the Monkees (King Seely, 1967) and the Beatles (Air Flite and Standard Plastic Products, 1964; Aladdin, 1965).

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Feeding America

Feeding America

This archive of 76 influential American cookbooks from the late 1700s to early 1900s, assembled by the Michigan St… [read review or visit site]

Tupper Diva

Tupper Diva

Kristian McManus’ fresh, airtight collection of Tupperware catalogs and related ephemera from the 1950s and 6… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Batman 1966 Lunch Box With Thermos1955 Vintage Annie Oakley And Tagg Metal Lunchbox & Thermos Set Western CowboyAmerican Girl Huge Lot, Sleeping Bags, Julie's Lunch Box ,Vintage 1963 Alladin Jetsons Domed Metal Lunchbox. Rare!Nwt~disney Store Exclusive Frozen Backpack, Lunch Box & Water BottleVintage Outstanding Dixie Queen Cut Plug Tobacco Tin Litho Metal Lunch Pail Planet Lunch Box Includes Little Dipper Planet BoxFishpond Lunch Box Cooler / Small Fly Fishing Gear BagNwt Boutique Disney's Frozen Girls Summer Camp Back 2 School Lunch Box Great!1966 Vintage Hogan's Heroes Domed Metal Lunchbox / Wwii 1960s Tv Bob Crane Vintage Rare 1954 Adco Liberty Mickey Mouse Donald Duck Metal LunchboxTamiya Lunchbox Set20th C. Antique Chinese Stacking Hardwood Lunch Box Carved Dragons & Figures Walt Disney World 1970 Metal Lunchbox Near Mint Unused + Thermos & Hang TagVintage 1977 Aladdin Wonder Woman Yellow Vinyl Lunch Box W/ ThermosVintage 1950's (rare) Roy Rogers & Dale Evens Dome Top Metal LunchboxVintage Metal Lunchbox Thermos Bottle Smokey The Bear W Rules List1970 H.r. Pufnstuf Tv Show Cartoon Metal Lunch Box Sid & Marty Krofft Lunchbox!Vintage Batman And Robin Metal Lunchbox 1966 AladdinAladdin Stanley Thermos A945dh Half Gallon W/ Travel MugsVintage 1956 Wild Bill Hickok Metal Lunch Box1966 Batman Lunchbox - Fair Condition1950's Aladdin Chuck Wagon Metal Dome Lunchbox Tv Western Lunch Box W/ Thermos1980 The Dukes Of Hazzard Lunch Box With Thermos Fallout 3 Collector's Lunchbox Vault-tec With Bobble HeadVintage Metal Lunchbox With Thermos "the Road Runner"1971 The Partridge Family Thermos Brand Metal Lunchbox With ThermosVintage 1966 Batman & Robin Thermos For Metal Lunchbox Very Nice! No Reserve!Vtg Nice Bonanza Tv Western Aladdin Metal Embossed LunchboxVintage 1969 Aladdin Industries Lunchbox The Wild Wild WestBeatles Aladdin LunchboxSuperman Lunchbox 1967The Skateboarder Lunchbox W/ Thermos Vintage Original Rare AladdinFallout 3: Collector's Edition - Lunchbox, Vault Boy + More! (xbox 360, 2008)Disney Frozen Lunchbox Lunch Box ElsaBlack Dome Lunch Box And Thermos - Construction Worker Pail - Classic LunchboxVintage 1967 Dome Top It's About Time Metal Lunchbox By Aladdin IndustriesVintage Hopalong Cassidy Aladdin Metal Lunchbox - No HandleDisney Frozen Backpack And Lunchbox1952 Tom Corbett Space Cadet Lunchbox And Thermos - Good Condition~u.s. Space Corps 1960's Metal Lunch Box~Unused Nm 1984 Care Bears Lunchbox And ThermosVintage Lunch Box Esky Clayton Staykold Cooler Travel Metal CaravanAmerican Girl Julie's Lunchbox SetVintage Metal Lunchbox With Thermos "pete's Dragon"2006 Longaberger Bright Red Lunch Box Basket, Star NapkinRb6 Japanese Vintage Wakasa Lacquered Wood Lunch Box Bento Jubako Oju 3 Stories1100ml Snoopy Lunch Box Bento Food Container W Fork + Bottle Mug + Insulated BagBento Kit From Japan! Insulated Lunch Box Bag, 2- Part Box And UtensilsTarzan Lunchbox 1966 Aladdin Industries Includes Thermos Vintage Metal Lunchbox1967 Aladdin Its About Time Metal Dome Lunchbox Space Tv Lunch Box No ThermosVintage 1984 Indiana Jones Metal Lunch Box & Thermos, Very Good Condition Vintage 1980 Pac-man Metal Lunch Box With Plastic ThermosE626: Japanese Old Cultural Lacquer Ware Lunch Box No-bento With Rare Structure Wee Forest Folk Her Lunch Box --mint Condition--Vintage Roy Rogers Metal Lunch Box1974 Evel Knievel Lunchbox VintageVintage Metal Us Mail Dome Lunchbox & Thermos Mr Zip Great ConditionVintage 1978 Bee Gees Aladdin Metal Lunchbox (maurice Gibb) With ThermosBobby Sherman Lunch Box - No Thermos - Great Condition