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 1965 The Munsters Metal Lunchbox Kayro-vue ProductionsThe Munsters Lunchbox 1965Vintage 1974 Planet Of The Apes Metal LunchboxScooby Doo Metal Lunchbox And Thermos 1973 VintageMint Unused Pristine Vintage Welcome Back Kotter Lunch Box & Thermos 1977 TagsVintage Original Paladin Have Gun Will Travel Metal Lunchbox 1960 AladdinEmergency Dome Metal Lunchbox And Thermos 1977Vintage Original Scooby Doo Hanna Barbera Metal Lunchbox 1973 ThermosBatman And Robin Vintage 1966 Aladdin Metal Lunchbox ☆no Reserve☆Vintage Original Kung Fu David Carradine Metal Lunchbox W/ Thermos 1974Vintage Original 007 James Bond Secret Agent Metal Lunchbox 1966 AladdinVintage Original The Man From U.n.c.l.e. Metal Lunchbox With Thermos 1966Vintage Original Drag Strip Metal Lunchbox 70s AladdinVtg Coach Brown Leather "lunch Box" Small Satchel Cross Body Bag Purse 9991 UsaMint Unused 1961 Walt Disney School Bus Lunchbox & Thermos W/tags & Rare StickerVintage Original Hogan’s Heroes Metal Dome Lunchbox 1966 AladdinVintage Original Hopalong Cassidy Metal Lunchbox W/ Thermos 1950 Aladdin Vintage Rare 1959 Gunsmoke Matt Dillon Marshal Lunch Box By Aladdin Vintage Original Emergency Universal Studio Metal Lunchbox 1973 AladdinVintage 1965 Daniel Boone Lunch Box & Thermos Fess Parker StunningRare, Original 1973 Scooby Doo Metal Lunch Box & Thermos Cartoon Tv Show!1970 H.r. Pufnstuf Lunchbox Nice Bright No Dents Original Sticker RareVintage Original The Astronauts Metal Lunchbox With Thermos Aladdin 1969Vintage Aladdin 1966 Gomer Pyle Usmc Metal Lunchbox Jim Nabors Lunch Box1966 Aladdin Disney Jungle Book Lunchbox With ThermosMunsters LunchboxVintage Original Emergency Metal Dome Lunchbox Aladdin With Thermos 1973Vintage Original Yogi Bear And Friends Hanna Barbera Metal Lunchbox 1963 AladdinNice Condition Lorillard's Ready Cut Lunchbox Tobacco Tin Excellent Graphics Vintage Original Trigger Roy Rogers Metal Lunchbox With Thermos 1956 Vintage 1964 Mary Poppins Vintage Metal Lunch Box And ThermosFallout 3 Collector's Edition LunchboxVintage Original Dudley Do-right Metal Lunchbox 50s/60s Jay Ward1967 Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea Lunch Box W/thermosKids Planetbox Lunch Box Planet Box Stainless Rover Tray, 2 DippersVintage Et Metal Lunchbox With Thermos 1982 Great Shape!!Vintage 1966 Batman And Robin Lunchbox Metal Vintage Original Bozo The Clown Dome Metal Lunchbox 1963 AladdinVintage Original Marvel Super Heroes Metal Lunchbox W/ Thermos Aladdin 1976Vintage Original Lawman Warner Bros. Metal Lunchbox 1961 ThermosVintage 1960 Thermos Metal Submarine Lunchbox1966 Captain Astro Medal Lunch Box1972 Vintage Bobby Orr Canadian Lunchbox Gem Mint Unused C10 Tag Stunning N.o.s1974 Vintage Bobby Orr Canadian Lunchbox Thermos Rare All Yellow Version Wow!!!Very Nice 1968 Land Of The Giants Aladdin Lunchbox With ThermosOriginal 1982 Aladdin E.t. Extra Terrestrial Metal Lunchbox With Thermos And TagVintage Original Looney Toons Metal Lunchbox W/ Thermos Warner Bros. 1959Vintage Rare Popeye Aladdin 1980 Metal Lunchbox Lunch Box Missing ThermosVintage 1960's The Beverly Hillbillies Metal Lunchbox (no Thermos)Vintage Original Lot Of 5 Disney Mickey Pinocchio Metal Lunchboxes 70s AladdinHalloween Fun - Lunch Box Quilts - Embroidery Machine Design Cd Multi FormatVintage 1960s Space Metal Lunchbox.Kiss 1977 Aucoin Orignal Metal Lunchbox In Amazing Condition1965 Munsters Lunch Box And Thermos Set Kayro Veiw Prod. Very NiceVintage 1974 Aladdin Evel Knievel Metal Lunchbox Vintage Original Welcome Back, Kotter Travolta Metal Lunchbox 1977 AladdinVintage Original Daniel Boone Metal Lunchbox 1955 AladdinVintage Original The Partridge Family Metal Lunchbox 1971 ThermosWw2 Japanese Army Officer Lunch Box.nigiriya.very Good1968 Vintage Pit Stop Lunchbox Thermos Mint C9.9 Unused Stunning Condition !!!!