Collecting Metal Lunch Boxes

Vintage Lunch Box
Vintage Lunch Box

There was a time when almost every child carried their lunch to school in a metal lunch box. The idea of a lunch box has been around since the early or middle 1800’s. During the Victorian age, manufacturers began to produce tin food containers that resembled lunch boxes. Once the containers were empty they were used to carry lunches and other items.

The thermos bottle came along in 1903 and made the perfect partner for lunch boxes. And, by 1935, Mickey Mouse had became the first licensed character to grace a metal lunch box. In 1950, the television industry kicked off a long line of character lunch boxes.

The first company to pick up on the love for television was Aladdin, in 1950 they immortalized Hopalong Cassidy on a lunch box! The first ones were just decals attached to the side of the box. The popularity of this single lunch kit gave Aladdin the finances to purchase a new factory. Over 600,000 Hopalong Cassidy lunch kits were sold in the first year alone and they were priced at $2.39!

In 1954, Aladdin manufactured two full color lunch box kits, Tom Corbett Space Cadet and another version of Hopalong Cassidy. Several other companies wanted in on the success of metal lunch boxes and Universal came out with the Superman lunch box that same year. The Superman lunch box is considered to be the most coveted lunch boxes of all time, one collector paid over $10,000 for one that was in mint condition!

In 1956, Aladdin made a deal with Disney and began producing the ever popular Disney metal lunch box kits. And, in 1962, Aladdin began producing the first 3D lunch kits. Both the front and back had embossed images that made the lunch boxes much more attractive.

The basic design of metal lunch boxes didn’t change much, the thermos’ however evolved over the years.Almost every popular television character during the 50’s and 60’s has been on a metal lunch box. There was even a Miss USA lunch kit produced in 1972.

In 1985, the metal lunch box became a thing of the past! The final kit was produced by the Thermos Company and depicted Rambo. While there are many rumors that the end of the metal lunch box came after some mother’s in Florida decided they were dangerous weapons took their complaints to the legislature, it’s not been proven.

Vintage Fonz Lunch Box
Vintage Fonz Lunch Box

The simple truth is more likely that it just  became much cheaper to manufacture lunch boxes from thinner plastic materials. Progression and technology has after all been the reason for the disappearance of many of the items that are so collectable today!

Since metal lunch boxes were truly cherished by school children everywhere, boxes that are in mint condition are a rare find. Many children carried crayons, small toys and other items around in their prized lunch box even when they weren’t at school! And, many proudly wrote their names on them so no one else could claim them!

Anyone that grew up during that time knows that metal lunch boxes were much more than just a way to carry your lunch to school. Much like T-shirts later became, metal lunch boxes were a way of letting everyone know who your favorite television hero was. Whether it was a real person or a cartoon, lunch boxes were the way to promote your pick!

Like with so many other collectable’s, metal lunch boxes carry a lot of memories from a milder more care free time. It’s one more collectable item that allows you to take a step back and be in another world for just awhile! Their popularity is voiced in the 120 million kits that were sold in the 50’s and 60’s!

Written by Connie Corder, Copyright 2008

Leave a Reply