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    

1965 The Munsters Lunchbox With Unused Thermos Bonus Display Case!Beatles Vinyl Lunch Box 1965Vintage George Washington Cut Plug Tobacco Tin Lunch Pail Design-vg Condition!!!Vintage Retro Rare Brady Bunch 1970 Lunchbox And Thermos 70s Show Groovy ManVintage 1968 King Features The Beatles Yellow Submarine Thermos No Stopper1966 Vintage Gomer Pyle Lunchbox Thermos Nr Mint Unused C9+ Tags !!!!Vintage Star Wars 6 Lunchbox Lot 1977 Original Kenner Thermos Esb Rotj EwoksVintage 1963 The Beverly Hillbillies Lunchbox Aladdin Industries No ThermosVintage 1959 Gunsmoke Matt Dillion Us Marshal Metal Aladdin Lunchbox No ThermosStar Wars The Empire Strikes Back Vintage Lunch BoxVintage World Of Dr Seuss Metal Lunchbox 1970 With Thermos! See Pics1950s Roy Rodgers And Dale Evens Double R Bar Ranch Lunchbox And Thermos1968 Vintage Star Trek Metal Lunch Box And ThermosVintage 1974 Addams Family Metal Lunch Box And No ReserveClean! Vintage 1962 The Flintstones & Dino Metal Lunchbox No Reserve Free S/hVintage 1960's Mickey Mouse Lunchbox Fire Fighters Walt Disney Metal Dome TopPeter Pan 1969 Walt Disney Metal Lunchbox Wendy Captain Hook Vintage!Vintage 1971 The Partridge Family Lunch Box & Thermos Good ConditionGunsmoke Vintage Metal Lunchbox C-6, Tv Show Pail, Aladdin 1972Planet Of The Apes Lunchbox W/ ThermosLot 7 Vintage 80s He-man Motu Master Of The Universe Action Figures W/ Lunch Box1969 Vintage The Astronauts Lunchbox Thermos Nr Mint Unused W/tag Wow !!!1968 Bonanza Thermos (yellow Version)Vintage World Of Dr Seuss Metal Lunchbox 1970 With Thermos.Vintage Thermos Brand Western Metal Lunch Box Rare Vintage Metal Lunch Box Annie Oakley Aladdin 1955Evel Knievel Vintage Metal Lunchbox C-5, Pail, Aladdin 1974Vintage Partridge Family Metal Lunchbox And Thermos 1971Vintage Thermos Brand Ringling Bros. & Barnum/bailey Vinyl Lunchbox, W/ ThermosVintage Six Million Dollar Man Lunchbox And Thermos!American Girl ~ Samantha Tin Lunch BoxThe Dukes Of Hazzard Lunchbox 1980Transformers Vintage Metal Lunch Box With Tag Hasbro Aladdin 1986Zt Lunchbox Junior Guitar Amp1955 Vintage Rare Daniel Boone Proto Type Lunchbox W/ Stitching On Band Wow !!!Aladdin Evel Knievel Lunchbox W/thermos, Vintage 1974: Clean Exterior & ThermosSigmund And The Seamonsters Lunchbox And Thermos With Bonus Display Case!1972 Vintage Bobby Sherman Lunchbox Thermos Mint C9.5 Unused !!!!Vintage 1966 Aladdin Industries Batman & Robin Metal Thermos Lunchbox Original 1965 "the Munsters" Thermos Bottle 2835 Kayro Vue ProductionsiTarzan Vintage Metal Lunchbox C-6, Pail, Tv Show, Aladdin 1966Bullwinkle Lunchbox1980 The Dukes Of Hazzard Metal LunchboxVintage Metal Roy Rogers & Dale Evans Double R Bar Ranch LunchboxRare Pennzoil Racing Engine Motor Shaped Ice Chest Cooler Lunch Box Nascar FanDavy Crockett Lunch Box Knife Fight Lid, Grizzly Bear Attack Back, "holtemp"Vintage Astronauts Lunch Box By Aladdin (1969) With Thermos! Space1971 Vintage Harlem Globetrotters Lunchbox Thermos In Fine Condition By Kst !!!!"joe Palooka" 1948 Tin Lunch Kit, Vintage Lunch Box 1961 Yogi Bear Thermos Matilda Jane Lesson Plan Lunchbox School Houses Lunch Zipper Bag Vintage 1980 Aladdin Dukes Of Hazzard Lunch Box & Thermos Daisy Duke General LeeCute ! Sanrio Hellokitty Face Die Cut Head Bento Lunch Box Food Container 270mlVintage 1974 Evil Knievel Metal Lunchbox With Thermos AladdinVintage '50s LunchboxLanders Frary & Clark Universal Vacuum Bottle Thermos Glass LinedVintage "close Encounters" Lunchbox With Thermos2 Vintage 1960s Aladdin Thermos Metal Twiggy Super-model Tammy Doll Lunchbox Usa1965 Beatles Lunch Box ~ Aladdin ~ Vintage Metal ~ John, Paul, George & Ringo!Vintage 1977 Star Wars Lunch Box With Thermos