With increasing industrialization resulting in Americans working outside the home in factories, it became unfeasible to go home to lunch every day, thus it was necessary to have something to protect and transport a meal. Since the 19th century, American industrial workers have used sturdy containers to hold hardy lunches, consisting of foods such as hard-boiled eggs, vegetables, meat, coffee, and pie. David Shayt, curator of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, states that “Some of our earliest examples, from the 19th century, were woven baskets with handles. A meal would be wrapped in a handkerchief. Depending on your station, a fancy wooden box would be used by the wealthy.” Tinplate boxes and recycled biscuit tins commonly were used in the early 1800s, and fitted metal pails and boxes began to appear around the 1850s. Patents started to appear for lunchbox inventions in the 1860s
In 1935, Geuder, Paeschke and Frey produced the first licensed character lunch box, Mickey Mouse. It was a lithographed oval tin, with a pull-out tray inside. It had no vacuum bottle, but did have a handle.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,” quickly became Aladdin’s cash cow. Debuting in time for back-to-school 1950, it would go on to sell 600,000 units in its first year alone, each at a modest $2.39 USD.While television was experiencing amazing growth during the 1950s, manufacturers saw a potential for sales. Manufacturers grew to include ADCO Liberty, American Thermos (later King Seeley Thermos, or KST), Kruger Manufacturing Company, Landers, Frary and Clark (Universal), Okay Industries, and a number of other producers through the 1980s.The first use of plastics was 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.
During the 1960s, the lunch box had few changes. The vacuum bottle included in them, however, 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 vacuum. Aladdin produced glass liners into the 1970s, but they were soon replaced with plastic.
Folding Lunch Box- 1871
The tin plated iron lunch box was patented by Charles C.Moore in 1871. The box folds in flat on itself.
Picnic Basket Lunch Box-1920s.
This tin-plated steel lunch box was manufactured by the Ohio Art Company in the 1920s.
Blue Box Lunch Box-1927
Green Dome Lunch Box-1941
The box was made by Thermos in 1941. A five pointed star is molded into each end of the dome lid. A wire bail for the thermos bottle is located inside the lid.
Workers Ornamental Lunch Box-1950
This domed, tin lunch box was made around 1950, but has an unknown maker.
Satellite Lunch Box-1950s
The Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite in late 1957 sparked interest in the United States in science education even among elementary school children. In 1958, King Seeley Thermos produced this imaginative box evoking space travel and landings on distant moons and planets.
Dick Tracy Thermos-1967
This tin, plastic and glass thermos bottle was made by Thermos in 1967.
The Beverly Hillbillies Lunch Box- 1963
This tin lunch box was manufactured by Aladdin Industries in 1963.
Twiggy Lunch Box-1967
This vinyl-clad, cardboard-core lunch box was made by Aladdin in 1967.
Julia Lunch Box-1969
This metal lunch box was manufactured by Thermos in 1969.
Flying Nun Thermos-1968.
This steel, glass and plastic thermos bottle was made by Aladdin Industries in 1968.
Lunchbox, The Exciting World of Metrics-1970
The objects children take to school can communicate messages. In the 1970s, the U.S. government encouraged more general use of the metric units of weight and measure, units that had been adopted in almost all other nations.
Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids Lunch Box-1973
El Chapulín Colorado Lunch Box-1979
This tin lunch box was manufactured by Aladdin Industries in 1979. The lunch box has a red and blue design depicting scenes from the television series, El Chapulín Colorado.
Marvel Comic’s Super Heroes Lunch Box-1976
The Magic of Lassie Lunch Box-1978
This metal lunch box was manufactured in 1978 by Thermos. Lassie the faithful collie was originally created in 1940 by Eric Knight in the short story “Lassie Come-Home.”
Fraggle Rock Lunch Box- 1984.
Rambo Lunch Box- 1985
Pinky and the Brain Lunch Box-1996
Hello Kitty Bento Box
All photos courtesy of National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institution