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...

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    

Vintage 1965 The Munsters Lunchbox1964 The Beatles Tan Kaboodle Kit Vinyl Lunch Box No Splits!1966 Vintage Aladdin Batman And Robin LunchboxVintage 1975 Land Of The Lost Metal Lunch BoxVtg Aladdin Star Trek Metal Dome Lunchbox W/thermos Bottle Original Tags 1968Matilda Jane Backpack & Lunchbox SetVintage 1967 Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea LunchboxMatilda Jane Backpack And Lunchbox Set. Used. Vguc. Read. Vintage 1966 Gomer Pyle Usmc Metal Lunchbox1967 Lost In Space Lunchbox Classic, Original, VintageUnused Near Mint Bionic Woman Lunchbox & Thermos. Hang Tag! Paperwork!*aladdin* 1976 "super Friends" Vintage Metal Lunch Box ~ Batgirl Batman CatwomanRare 1959 Double Ll Gunsmoke Lunchbox, Excellent ConditionUnused Near Mint Battlestar Galactica Lunchbox & Thermos. Hang Tag! Paperwork!Beatles Aladdin Lunchbox & Thermos 1965 Set Vintage Evel Knievel Lunch Box And Thermos, 1974Vintage 1968 The Beatles Yellow Submarine Metal Lunchbox W/thermosVintage 1963 Beverly Hillbillies Metal Lunchbox1961 Vintage Huckleberry Hound Lunchbox Thermos Nr Mint Nicest On Ebay Wow !!!!!Vintage H.r. Pufnstuf Aladdin Metal Lunchbox 1970Emergency! Vintage Metal Lunchbox C-9, Lunch Box Pail Tv Show, Aladdin 1973Vintage 1960's Fireball Xl5 Metal LunchboxVintage 1976 Marvel Comics Super Heroes Lunchbox By Aladdin Vintage 1962 Huckleberry Hound & Friends Lunch BoxStar Wars Return Of The Jedi Lunchbox/thermos1983mint Conditionnever UsedVtg Aladdin Batman And Robin Metal Lunchbox 1966. Vibrant Colors. No Thermos. 1962 Mike Mercury's Supercar Orbital Food Container Metal Lunchbox W/ ThermosVintage Beatles 1965 Metal Lunchbox W/original Thermos Aladdin Vintage 1974 Universal City Studio The Six Million Dollar Man Metal Lunch BoxVintage Emergency Metal Domed Top Lunchbox Aladdin - No ThermosVintage 1974 Addams Family Metal LunchboxVintage 1980 The Empire Strikes Back Metal Lunch BoxEmergency! Vintage Metal Lunchbox W/thermos Aladdin 1973Vintage 1966 Atom Ant Secret Squirrel Hanna Barbara Lunchbox1977 King Kong Lunchbox With ThermosVintage 1967 Aladdin Rat Patrol Tv Show Metal Lunch BoxVintage Lunchbox Thermos- 1977 Welcome Back Kotter & 1974 Planet Of The ApesVintage Emergency! Metal Lunchbox C-9, Lunch Box Pail Tv Show, Aladdin 19731971 Harlem Globetrotters Metal Thermos LunchboxJaws Lunchbox With Thermos By NecaVintage 1970s The Cyclist Dirt Bike Metal Lunchbox Mopeds Bikes Clean!!!Vintage 1981 Disney's The Fox And The Hound Metal Lunchbox With Thermos RareVintage 1984 Gremlins Movie Metal Lunch Box With ThermosWalt Disney's Mickey Mouse Club Vintage Metal Lunchbox Thermos W/cup 1963Vintage 1980 Clash Of The Titans Metal Lunchbox With Thermos Excellent ConditionVintage 1984 Gremlins Metal Lunchbox And Thermos Clean!!!Vintage Aladdin 1980 Strawberry Shortcake Tin Lunchbox With ThermosVintage Original Captain Astro Metal LunchboxVintage 1983 Mattel Masters Of The Universe Metal Lunchbox With ThemosVintage 1983 Aladdin Dragon's Lair Cartoon Metal Lunch Box Lunch Box ThermosPee-wees Playhouse Plastic Herman Toys Thermos Lunchbox 1987Vintage 1971 Aladdin The Flintstones Metal Lunch Box Thermos Pebbles Bam-bam Vintage 1977 Aladdin Welcome Back, Kotter Metal Lunch Box Thermos BarbarinoVintage Aladdin Stanley Thermos Quart Unbreakable Steel With Original Box EucVintage Aladdin 1973 Emergency Tv Show Lunch Box Thermos OnlyMetal Space Lunch Box Marilyn Manson Fan (spooky Kids) Lunchbox1955 Annie Oakley And Tagg Metal Lunchbox & Thermos Set / Man Cave Western HorseNwt Matilda Jane Charm Backpack, Lunchbox, Pencil Case, Water Bottle & Bento BoxVintage Star Trek1968 Paramount Pictures Dome Lunchbox Aladdin Space Tv Show