The lunch box, also referred to as a lunch pail or lunch kit. The essential idea of a food container has been around for a very long time, but it wasn't until people began using tobacco tins to haul meals in the early 20th century, followed by the use of lithographed images on metal, that the containers became a staple of western youth, and in turn, a marketable product in the eyes of manufacturers.
The lunch box has historically most often been used by schoolchildren to carry a prepared meal to school. The most common modern form is a small case with a clasp and handle, often printed with a colorful image that can either be generic or based on children's television shows or films. Use of lithographed metal to produce lunch boxes in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s gave way in the 1990s to use of injection-molded plastic.
Lunch kits are comprised of the actual "box" and a matching vacuum bottle. However, pop culture has more often embraced the singular term lunch box, which is now most commonly used.


The lunch box is a relatively new addition to American pop culture.
In 1950, Aladdin Industries created the first children's lunch box based on a television show, Hopalong Cassidy. The Hopalong Cassidy lunch kit, or "Hoppy," as it is also called, was Aladdin's "box" of gold. Debuting in time for back-to-school 1950, Hoppy would go on to sell 600,000 units in its first year alone, each at a modest $2.39 USD. Aladdin Industries moved to Nashville, Tennessee from its home in Chicago, and literally built their new headquarters with the Hoppy profits.

Children's lunch boxes were around before, however. In 1935, Geuder, Paeschke and Frey produced the first licensed character lunch box, Mickey Mouse. This was not the lunch box that we came to know and recognize today, however. It was basically a lithographed oval tin, with a pull-out tray inside. It had no vacuum bottle, but did have a handle. No sales figures are available as to how many units were sold.

While television was growing leaps and bounds during the 1950s, lunch box manufacturers now had something to sell to kids. Other manufacturers include ADCO Liberty, American Thermos (later King Seeley Thermos, or KST), Kruger Manufacturing Company, Landers, Frary and Clark (Universal), Okay Industries, and host of other producers through the 1980s.

Over the years, the lunch box has been manufactured using various materials. Originally all steel, the lunch box migrated to plastics over time. The first use of plastics accounted for the lunch box handle, but later spread to the entire box, with the first molded plastic boxes produced during the 1960s. Vinyl lunch boxes debuted in 1959, which were geared more towards girls, with the "purse-like" feel to them, and with themes like Bobby Soxer, Ponytails, and Pen Pals.

During the 1960s, the lunch box basically stayed the same with few exceptions. The vacuum bottle steadily evolved during the course of the decade and into the 1970s. What was originally a steel vacuum bottle with glass liner, cork or rubber stopper, and bakelite cup became an all-plastic bottle, with insulated foam rather than glass. Aladdin did produce glass liners into the 1970s, but they were soon replaced with the basic plastic bottle that would endure until the demise of the lunch box at the end of the 1980s. 1950s bottles were works of art, but their 1980s distant cousins seemed nothing more than a required piece.

1972 is a key year in the history of American lunch boxes. This is an important year because this is the supposed year the steel lunch box died.

In 1971-72, a concerned group of parents, mostly mothers, decided that metal lunch boxes could actually be used as weapons in school-yard brawls. With petitions signed, they marched all the way to the Florida State Legislature, and demanded "safety legislation" be passed. It eventually was passed, and other counties in Florida, and even other states adopted this legislation.

The migration to plastic was probably nearing anyway, and probably was as much a factor in the stoppage of metal lunch boxes as any law could have been. This is not to say that plastic quickly killed metal production. From the early plastic boxes in 1972, they stood in the shadow of metal boxes until 1987. 39% of all lunch box production from 1972-1987 was steel.

By the time the 1980s came, lunch box sales were still stronger, but they were waning. Many popular licenses were around during this time, including Pac-Man, GI Joe, Dukes of Hazzard, The A-Team, Strawberry Shortcake, Knight Rider, and many others.

As the decade drew towards the end, lunch box manufacturers simply stopped producing new boxes for the back-to-school season. Generally, it is accepted that Rambo, produced by KST, was the last lunch box of the golden era (1950-1987) to be sold. Whether for financial or other reasons, the lunch box as we had grown to know and love was dead. Lunch box production did not stop, but companies now moved to plastic and vinyl as a means of feeding the public. These boxes were generally solid colored with a label on one side and no other decoration beyond the thermos.

Today, lunch box collecting is a serious business. Many lunch boxes, including those from the 1950s and 1960s sell for hundreds of dollars, some even into the thousands of dollars. In December 2003, a mint Superman lunch box (Universal, 1954) was auctioned for $11,500.00 at MastroNet, Inc. auctions. With the 15% buyer's premium, the total price of this lunch box was $13,225.00.

In 2004, the Smithsonian Institution launched their "Taking America to Lunch" exhibit, which will be on display indefinitely at Smithsonian's American History Museum. There is also a traveling exhibit with dozens of lunch boxes.

Health concerns came to light in August 2005, when the Center for Environmental Health discovered that many popular vinyl lunch boxes contained dangerously high levels of lead.[1] Many, though not all, were pulled from the shelves. In 2006, most major manufacturers began testing their lunch boxes for lead levels, remedied the issue, and labeled their boxes as lead free.

(This text was adapted from )(GFDL)
Donate now!

You can help Wikipedia change the world! Donate now!

  • Use this Dreamhost promo code FIFTYTOYOU and win a $50.00 discount