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    

1100ml Snoopy Lunch Box Bento Food Container W Fork + Bottle Mug + Insulated BagBatman & Robin Metal Lunch Box 1966 With Thermos Good Used Condition1964 Gi Joe Action Figure 12" Hasbro W/rifle, Boots, Uniform, Hong Kong !m&aPlanetbox Stainless Steel Lunchbox RoversVintage 1961 Aladdin Huckleberry Hound Quick Draw Mcgraw Lunchbox & Thermos *nr*Vintage 1950's Roy Rogers & Dale Evans Chow Wagon Dome Top Metal Lunch BoxOriginal Vintage Roy Rogers Dale Evans Lunch Box & Thermos Made In Canada1965 The Munsters Vintage Metal Lunchbox Rare HtfScooby Doo 1973 Thermos Metal Lunchbox Lunch Box Vintage1964 Gi Joe Action Figure 12" Hasbro W/dog Tags, Boots, Jumpsuit, Hong Kong !m&aRare 1963 White Bullwinkle On The Moon Vinyl Lunchbox King SeeleyVintage Gomer Pyle Metal Lunchbox With ThermosStar Trek Lunch BoxVintage Superfriends Lunchbox W/thermos Rare Nm 1976 Brady Bunch Original 1970 Lunch Box With Thermos!The Partridge Family 1973 Thermos Metal Lunchbox Lunch Box VintageVintage 1968 Aladdin Industries The Flying Nun Lunch Box With Thermos1968 Marx Silver Knight Sir Stuart Complete With Box 12" Action Figure !m&a1977 Star Wars Metal Lunch Box With Original Thermos1967 Aladdin Its About Time Metal Dome Top Lunchbox Space Tv Show No ThermosVintage Metal Lunch Box 1966 Hogan's Heroes 1974 Aladdin Evel Knievel Lunchbox With Thermos.Igloo Playmate Gripper 9 Soft Insulated Cooler, Collapsible Lunch Box BagMetal Lunchbox 1983 Dragon's Lair Aladdin Character Kit W Thermos,tagZt Lunchbox Amp1960 Paladin Have Gun Will Travel Metal Lunchbox Lunch Box Vintage 1950's (rare) Roy Rogers & Dale Evens Dome Top Metal LunchboxBts Girls Justice Backpack And Lunch Box1950 Hopalong Cassidy Cowboy Blue Metal Lunch Box -no Thermos Vintage Pincchio Tin Lunch Box W/ Thermos Disney's Frozen 16" Back Pack And 9.5"lunch Box Elsa And Anna1964 Gi Joe Hasbro 12" Action Figure *hong Kong* Fully Dressed W/boots Beard M&aAmerican Girl Addy Lunch Pail TlcVintage 1977 Kiss Metal Lunchbox & Thermos By King Seeley Thermos Co., AucoinVintage1966 Mertal Aladdin Batman And Robin Dc Comics Joker Penguin Lunchbox Vintage Original Jaws Neca Metal Lunchbox W/thermos Limited EdditionLot Of 9 Vintage 1980's Lunchboxes & Thermos (rambo, Mask, Wuzzles, Pooples, +)Vintage Metal Lunchbox With Thermos "the Dukes Of Hazard" 1980 AladdinVintage Junior Nurse Vinyl Lunchbox & Metal Thermos Lunch Kit 1963 King Seeley Vintage Volkswagen Lunch BoxUniversal Movie Monsters Lunchbox W/ Thermos 1980 Dracula Wolfman FrankensteinAmerican Girl Kit's Book Bag & Supplies + LunchboxVintage Lunchbox - Wild Bill Hickok6 Vintage Metal Lunchboxes Walt Disney Fall Guy Bionic Woman Six Million HappyVintage Original 1970s The Brady Bunch Lunch Box W/ ThermosVtg Wear-ever #977 Coal Miner's Lunch Bucket Pail Mining Mine Lunchbox InitialDisney Frozen Backpack & LunchboxVintage Kiss LunchboxOriginal The Munsters Vinrage Metal Lunchbox 1965Disney Frozen Thermos Bottle Kids 12oz Insulated Funtainer Straw School BottleVintage 1977 Star Wars Lunch Box /w Thermos /w Original Paper Insert €Beautiful! 1974 The 6 Six Million Dollar Man Metal Lunchbox Complete W/ Thermos!King Seeley 1963 Bullwinkle On The Moon Thermos MintyDisney's Frozen Elsa Lunch BoxMonster High Backpack And 2 Insulated Monster High LunchboxesVintage 1974 Panet Of The Apes Metal Lunch Box And Thermos - Great ShapeDisney Frozen Thermos Bottle And Food Container.insulated FuntainerVintage Evel Knievel Lunchbox And Thermos 1974 Aladdin No CupTory Burch For Target Neiman Marcus Mod Lunch Box Or Makeup Bag Back To SchoolVintage Antique Brothers Long Cut Tobacco Tin Lunch Pail Handle Size Yellow 6.5"