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    

Original Vintage 1965 Beatles Lunchbox & Thermos1965 The Munsters Metal Lunchbox By Kayro-vue & King-seeley1978 Bionic Woman Lunchbox W/thermos... Both Near Mint+...barely Used!Ltd Toy Stamp & 1960s The Beatles Lunchbox Excellent ConditionExcellent 1950s Roy Rogers + Dale Evans Double R Bar Ranch Lunchbox W ThermosLtd Toy Stamp & 1970s Kiss Lunchbox And Thermos Excellent Condition1979 Universal Movie Monsters Lunch Box By Aladdin + Thermos! Great Condition!!!Ltd Toy Stamp & 1960s The Beatles Yellow Submarine Lunchbox And ThermosVintage 1959 Gunsmoke Lunchbox No Thermos Nm Interior Great Find! 1960 Space Dome Tin LunchboxUniversals Movie Monsters Aladdin Lunch Box & Thermos 1979 No ReserveVintage 1963 The Jetsons Lunchbox & ThermosVintage 1960 Volkswagon Metal Lunchbox, Very Good Condition, Vw BusVintage Davy Crockett Lunchbox At The Alamo 1955 Adco Disney, NrAwesome American Girl Julie's Lunchbox Complete BoxVintage Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea Lunch BoxDukes Of Hazzard Metal Lunch Box 1980 Original With Thermos MintVintage 1973 Aladdin Emergency! Tv Series Lunchbox With Thermos UsedVintage Hee Haw And Partridge Family Lunch BoxesVintage Et And Welcome Back Kotter Lunch Boxes W/thermos1962 Flintstones Comic Lunchbox And Thermos Cartoon Tv Movie Free ShippingDisney Frozen Anna Elsa & Olaf Lunch Box Bag W/ Strap + Water Bottle + WatchVery Rare 1973 Scooby Doo Metal Lunch Box With Thermos Great Condition1971 Flintstones Metal Lunch Box With Thermos Pebbles Bab Bam Near Mint Alladin1959 Universal Little Dutch Miss Lunchbox & Thermos Near Mint No ReserveVintage Aladdin Bonanza Lunchbox Without ThermosThe Wild Wild West Lunch Box Aladdin 1969 Metal Vintage W ThermosOld Vintage 1960s 1967 Green Hornet Metal Thermos For Lunchbox Bruce Lee500 Series LunchboxNice Vintage 1965 Nems Beatles Vinyl Brunch Bag Lunchbox Aladdin Boys No ThermosAdam-12 Tv Show Metal Lunchbox 1972 Vintage Good Shape Handle & Latch Work +moreGentle Ben Lunchbox"our Friends" Rare Metal Lunchbox-no Reserve!!!1969 The Banana Splits Vinyl Lunchbox By Hanna-barbera & King-seeley ThermosFallout 3 Collectors Edition Vault Tec Lunchbox & Bobble Head Rare RareVintage Gentle Ben Lunch BoxVintage 18 Wheeler Lunchbox With Thermos By Aladdin1955 Annie Oakley And Tagg Vintage Lunch Box, No ThermosVintage "bozo The Clown" Dometop Lunchbox Aladdin 1963, No ThermosVintage Very Rare 1959 Carnival Universal Metal Lunchbox & Thermos1970 Brady Bunch Lunch Box With Thermos1973 Scooby Doo Metal Lunchbox Hanna Barbera King SeelyVintage 1983 Star Wars Return Of The Jedi Metal Lunch Box And ThermosTupperware Lunch Box And Sandwich Keeper Set (red)Vintage Robin Williams Mork And Mindy Lunch BoxVintage 1959 Aladdin Gunsmoke Metal Lunchbox, With Thermos! Matt Dillon, Nice!Universals Movie Monsters Aladdin Lunch Box 1979Vintage Aladdin Stanley Wide Mouth 24oz Thermos Hot/cold , New In BoxG.i. Joe Lunch Box And Misc Figures Lot Storm Shadow Snake Eyes Cheap!Disney Le Beauty And The Beast Lunch Box Series Watch & Pin SetTupperware Lunch Box And Sandwich Keeper Set (blue)Vintage Kiss Lunch Box1976 Vintage "happy Days & The Fonz" Metal Lunchbox & Thermos No ReserveVintage Petes Dragon Lunch Box4 Lunch Box Bottles Lot/get Smart/bondage/roadrunner/disney Von Duck/plaid€Vintage Silver Aluminum Thermos Dome Lunchbox V * Red Handle Work Lunch Tin BoxVintage Pete's Dragon Walt Disney Metal Lunch Box1962 Fisher Price #549 Little People Mini Barn Lunch Box & Silo Thermos #228Rare Vintage 1971 Aladdin Lidsville Metal Lunch Box With Thermos