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    

Vintage Original Hopalong Cassidy Metal Lunchbox 1954 AladdinVintage Original The Munsters Metal Lunchbox 1965 Thermos1967 Lost In Space Dome Lunchbox Original1964 The Flintstones Lunchbox And Thermos ,aladdin1978 The Incredible Hulk Stunning Mint Unused Lunchbox And Thermos C9.9 With TagUniversal Movie Monsters Lunch Box W/ Thermos 1979 Really Nice 1970's Aladdin Bobby Orr Lunch BoxVintage Original The Man From Uncle Metal Lunchbox With Thermos 1966Vintage Original Bonanza Metal Lunchbox 1968 AladdinVintage Evel Knievel 1974 Aladdin Industries Incorporated Metal Lunch Box1970 The Road Runner Lunchbox And Thermos Set UnusedVintage Original Atom Ant Hanna Barbera Metal Lunchbox 1966 King-seeley ThermosThe Banana Splits 1969 Thermos Vinyl Lunchbox Monkees Archies Josie Pussy Cats Vintage Original Hopalong Cassidy Metal Lunchbox W/ Thermos 1950 AladdinVintage Original 007 James Bond Secret Agent Metal Lunchbox 1966 AladdinLot Of 3 Vintage Racing Metal Lunch BoxesVintage Original Fess Parker Lunch Kit Daniel Boone Tv Show Metal Lunchbox 1965Flintstones Vintage Lunchbox With Thermos - Very Good ConditionVintage Original Howdy Doody Cowboy & Indian History Metal Lunchbox Adco 19541965 Munsters Lunch Box With Thermos 1976 Sid And Marty Kroft The Kroft Supershow Lunchbox & Thermos Mint W Tag C101972 Aladdin Woody Woodpecker Metal Lunchbox & Thermos Nice!1962 Popeye Metal LunchboxVintage 1973 Emergency! Lunch BoxVintage Original Kiss Metal Lunchbox 1977 Thermos King-seeley1975 Land Of The Lost-metal Lunchbox-sid & Marty Krofft-alladin Very ColorfulRare! Rare! 1959 Gunsmoke Marshall Mispelled Version Lunch Box By Aladdin1980 The Dukes Of Hazzard Metal Lunchbox And Thermos Fantastic Mint With Tag !!1968 Chuck Connors Cowboy In Africa Unused Metal Lunchbox And ThermosVintage Original Disney Fire Fighters Metal Lunchbox & Thermos 1968 AladdinRare Craftsman Vintage Lunch Box Style Domed Clam Shell Tool Box CantileverVintage Lunchbox 1968 Land Of The Giants In Excellent ConditionVintage Original Gunsmoke Tv Western Metal Lunchbox 1972 AladdinVintage Original Gene Autry Melody Ranch 1954 Metal LunchboxPlanetbox Kids Rover Lunchbox With Carrying Case, Magnets, Ice Pack And 2 ContaiVintage Original Six Million Dollar Man Universal Metal Lunchbox W/ Thermos 1974Vintage Original Peter Pan Walt Disney Metal Lunchbox 1969 Aladdin1973 Scooby Doo Orange Lunchbox&thermos Vintage Original Super Friends Batman Metal Lunchbox W/ Thermos 1976 AladdinThe Wild Wild West 1969 Metal Lunch Box- Aladdin- Railroad-horsed-guns-boat +Vintage Original Disneyland Metal Lunchbox With Thermos 1957 AladdinVintage 1970 "h.r. Pufnstuf" Lunch Box Sid & Marty Krofft Prod. No ThermosVintage Original Buck Rogers 25th Century Metal Lunchbox W/ Thermos Aladdin 19791973 Adam-12 Lunchbox&thermosVenture Brothers Sdcc Exclusive Jonas & Rusty Lunchbox Set Ltd To 1500 MegoVintage 1977 Aladdin Welcome Back Kotter Metal Lunchbox & Thermos 1970's GreatVintage Fat Albert & The Cosby Kids Metal Lunchbox 1973 Thermos King-seeley1966 Zorro Lunchbox&thermosKiss Aucoin 1977 Lunch Box W Thermos Signed By Ace Frehley1978 Charlies Angels Lunchbox&thermos ** Unused Wtag **Vintage 1974 Addams Family Metal Lunchbox With Thermos Nr1965 Smokey The Bear Vinyl Lunchbox & Metal Thermos Nm #br93Vintage Original Flipper Metal Lunchbox 1966 ThermosVintage 1974 Planet Of The Apes Metal Lunch Box! Twentieth Century Fox! Aladdin!Vintage 1960 Astronauts Space Ships Dome Lunchbox W/themos1974 Kung Fu Metal Lunchbox&thermos Unused 1974 Planet Of The Apes LunchboxVintage Rare Tin Toy Lunchbox Cosmos - 1960 Romania.Vintage 1969 The Wild Wild West Aladdin Metal Lunchbox & ThermosH R Pufnstuf Lunch Box No Thermos Nr