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    

Evel Knievel Lunch Box, Stunt Cycles, Action Figures, Motorcycles, Vintage Evel.Vintage 1960s Aladdin Metal Bonanza Lunchbox Hs83Vintage 1954 Rare Universal Superman Metal Lunchbox Very Nice Nr No Thermos !!Vintage Beatles Lunch Box 1965 AladdinVintage Metal Lunchbox W/metal Thermos 1966 Get SmartVintage Metal Lunchbox & Mint Thermos 1970 Brady BunchH.r. Pufnstuf 1970 Vintage Metal Lunch Box1966 Aladdin Metal Hogan's Heroes Lunch Box Lunchbox No ThermosVintage 1966 Aladdin Batman & Robin Metal Lunch BoxAntique Gomer Pyle Usmc Lunch Box American Girl Julie's School Lunchbox 1977 Emergency Tv Show Dome Lunchbox & Thermos Firefighter C#8+ Nr!Vintage Beverly Hillbillies Metal Lunch BoxVintage 1984 Gremlins Metal Aladdin Lunch Box LunchboxVintage Metal 1981 Disney Fox And The Hound Lunchbox & ThermosTamiya Rc Lunch Box Vintage Lawman Lunchbox 1961 Western Tv Show Metal Warner Bros John RussellLaugh-in Vintage 1968 Alladin Lunchbox With Thermos And Clip - Complete SetVintage Emergency! 1972 Metal Lunchbox1970s Nfl Vintage Metal Lunch Box W/ ThermosVintage 1980 Dukes Of Hazzard Metal Lunch Box - With ThermosVintage Rare 1978 Close Encounters Of Third Kind Metal Lunchbox & ThermosTamiya LunchboxVintage 1950s Hopalong Cassidy Lunchbox With Thermos-aladdin Industries- No Res!Vintage Emergency! Tv Show Metal Lunch Box & Thermos, Aladdin 1973 Fire FightersOakley Lunch Box BackpackDukes Of Hazzard Lunchbox, Alladin 19801974 Evel Knievel Lunchbox - No Thermos(lot Of 12) "older" Collector Metal Tin Lunch Boxes - 1970's - 1980'sThe Wild Wild West 1968 Lunch Box Lunchbox Great Condition2 Vintage Lunchboxes Universal Monsters And Dynomutt 1970'sVintage 1974 Aladdin Planet Of The Apes Thermos Movie Plastic VgcFallout 3 -- Collector's Edition (sony Playstation 3, 2008) Lunchbox, Sealed!Vintage Aladdin The Skateboarder Metal Lunchbox With Thermos 1977-78 Nice!Vintage 1959 Warner Bros Looney Tunes Looney Toons Lunch Box All CharactersTopper Johnny Lightning Lunchbox And ThermosVintage Incredible Hulk 1978 Metal Marvel Lunch Box, [no Thermos]Handled Vintage Lucite Plastic Mottled Brown Lunch Box HandbagSuperman LunchboxVintage 1980 Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back Metal Rotj Lunchbox Collection Vintage Nfl Quarterback Metal Lunchbox 1964 Aladdin - Nice Packers Bears Giants 1953 Roy Rogers Dale Evans Double R Lunchbox ThermosVintage Dukes Of Hazzard Lunchbox And ThermosAladdin Stanley A-944dh One Quart Green Thermos U.s.a1969 Wild Wild West Lunchbox Thermos Tv Robert Conrad, Ross MartinVintage 1968 Gentle Ben Lunch Box- Metal - Aladdin- Tv Show- Bear1969 Family Affair Metal Lunch Box & Thermos Set. Very Rare. Vintage 1940's Joe Palooka Metal Lunchbox Character ComicIt's A 1968 Star Treck Metal Lunch Box ! No Thermas With It !Vintage Nfl Lunch Box And ThermosStanley Cooler Lunchbox Thermos Combo1969 Hot Wheels Lunchbox With ThermosAddams Family Lunchbox Tin Vintage Tv Monster Show Real Clean HalloweenMy Pet Monster Lunchbox "rare" 1986 1.4l Mini Small Rice Cooker 2 Layers Multifunctional Electric Heating Lunch BoxVintage 1983 Star Wars Return Of The Jedi Lunch Box Blue Thermos Lunchbox Vintage 50's Blue Hopalong Cassidy Metal Lunch Box Pail Nwt Matilda Jane Lesson Plan LunchboxRare Antique Miners Salesman Sample Lunch Pail Ex!Vintage Davy Crockett Lunch Box 1950s