A History Of The Lunch Box

Equally important to the food you eat is how it’s presented. Especially if that food is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and baby carrots, and you’re carrying it to school day after day. That’s the importance of the all-mighty lunchbox.

Whole Pop has an in-depth look at the illustrious history of what’s for many of us our first real stab at individualism. In my elementary school it was G.I. Joe or Thundercats, a line that was drawn ever afternoon in the cafeteria.

That wasn’t always the case, of course. The original lunch boxes of the late 19th century were more like latching metal tubs, and the only status it signalled was poverty. It wasn’t until 1902 that the first true lunch box came out, a green picnic basket-like metal container with drawings of frolicking children on the sides.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that lunch boxes became adorned with popular TV characters and cartoon heroes became popular for both children and manufacturers alike. Decals started hitting. Lunchbox manufacturers elbowed each other out to get exclusive rights to hit TV shows. The licensing became so great that companies soon turned to other attention-grabbing novelties – like new shapes:

Deep into the 1970s, though, the lunchbox boom went bust. Manufacturers slowly from the satisfying clank and durability of metal to cheap plastics, and eventually went out of business altogether save for Thermos. The last metal lunchbox, from 1976? Rambo. Of course.

But all’s not lost in the lunch transportation biz. It seems as though we’re undergoing a resurgence, of sorts. They might be harder to find. They might be novelty knock-offs of the originals. Or they might be cheap plastic gimmicks. But as long as there are elementary schoolers learning who they are and drawing lines in the sand over cartoon heroes, there will always be a future for the lunchbox. [WholePop via Smithsonian Mag Image credit: NMAH]

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