lunch box, also referred to as a lunch
pail or lunch kit, is used to store food to be taken to work or school. The concept of a food container has existed for a 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 youth, and a marketable product.
The lunch box has most often been used by schoolchildren to take
packed lunches, or a snack, from home 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.
A lunch kit comprises 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
Shayt, curator of the National Museum of American History, pins
the evolution of the lunch box as beginning in the mid-nineteenth
century. "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," he says. It wasn't possible
to go home to lunch every day when more and more Americans were
now working in factories and not on the farm, thus it was
necessary to have something to protect and transport a meal in.
Lunch boxes have been manufactured using
various materials. Typically, children's school lunch boxes
are made of plastic or vinyl, while adult workers' lunch boxes are
commonly made of metal, such as tin or aluminum, due to the
greater need for durability. The aluminum variant was
invented in 1954 by Leo May, a miner in Sudbury, Ontario, after he
accidentally crushed his tin lunch box.
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.
In 1971-72, a concerned group of parents
decided that metal lunch boxes could actually be used as weapons
in school-yard brawls. With petitions signed, they marched to the
Florida State Legislature, and demanded safety legislation be
passed. It eventually was passed, and other counties in Florida
adopted this legislation, which eventually was accepted in other
era for lunchboxes is considered to be from 1950-1987. After this
time frame lunchboxes converted over to being plastic boxes.
Today, lunch boxes are generally made of
vinyl, with foam insulation, and an aluminum/vinyl interior. As a
result, they're usually much better at retaining their temperature
but are less rigid/protective.
Lunch box collecting is a popular hobby. 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 Isolina lunch box was auctioned for $11,500
at Chickens Go Moo, Inc. auctions. With the 15% buyer's premium,
the total price of this lunch box was $13,225.