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Vintage Lunch Boxes

Terry Hurley
Vintage Lunch Box
Lunch Boxes are Fun Collectibles

Highly sought after by collectors, vintage lunch boxes often bring back fond memories of early school days to many people.

A Brief History of the Lunch Box

In the early 1900s Americans carried their lunches in tins that once held biscuits, candy or tobacco. If they didn't have a tin to reuse, the food was put into a metal pail. Through the following decades, metal lunch boxes were designed and manufactured in two basic styles, rectangular with either a flat top or a domed top. Both styles had one hinged side.

The 1950s

In 1950 the very first image was put on a metal lunch box of the vintage era. That image was of television cowboy star Hopalong Cassidy. The image was simply a de-cal applied to the traditional metal lunch box. Three years later the image of another well-known television cowboy, Roy Rogers, became the first lithographed image stamped onto a metal lunch box of the time.

However, the first character lunch box was actually produced in 1935. It was a lithographed tin oval box with a picture of Mickey Mouse. Due to the age and style of this lunch box it is considered antique rather than vintage.

By the mid 1950s decorative lunch boxes were all the rage among the elementary school age set as they carried their lunches in colorful metal lunch boxes decorated with pictures of their favorite television stars, movie stars or cartoon characters. Popular lunch box images of the times included:

  • Roy Rogers and Dale Evans
  • Hopalong Cassidy
  • Superman
  • Howdy Doody
  • Mickey Mouse
  • Donald Duck
  • Dumbo the Elephant
  • Jiminy Cricket
  • Pluto

The Next Three Decades

During the following thirty years several new lunch box designs and styles were introduced. In 1960 a new style lunch box featuring pictures of the popular Barbie fashion doll went on the market. Instead of metal the Barbie lunch box was made of cardboard covered with vinyl and was available in several shades of pink ranging from a soft baby pink to a bright hot pink. During this decade lunch box kits and brunch bags were also introduced. Popular character lunch boxes in both vinyl and metal from the 1960s included:

  • G I Joe
  • The Jetsons
  • Beany and Cecil
  • The Beatles
  • Kewtie Pie
  • Barbie and Midge

In addition to character themes, the lunch boxes of this era also included military aircraft, careers and plaid designs.

  • Dome-topped Disney school bus.
  • US Navy military submarine
  • Fireball XL5
  • Stewardess
  • Ballerina
  • Kaboodle
  • Dome-topped Volkswagen bus
  • Star Trek
  • NFL
  • The Pussycats
  • Have Gun Will Travel
  • Zorro
  • Shari Lewis

Throughout the next twenty years, many schoolchildren started each new school year with a shiny new lunch box many bearing images of their favorite personality, psychedelic designs or cool catchwords. Favorites included:

  • Hot Wheels
  • I'm a Pepper from Dr. Pepper
  • Stars and Stripes
  • Holly Hobbie
  • Evil Knievel
  • Jr. Miss
  • The Green Hornet
  • Worm in the Apple Hi
  • He Haw
  • Tang Trio
  • Empire Strikes Back
  • Betty Boop
  • The Dukes of Hazard

Vintage Lunch Boxes

The years between 1950 - 1987 are considered the Golden Age of the lunch box. Today, lunch boxes manufactured between those years are classified as vintage by collectors. These fun collectibles reached the peak of their popularity in the late 1960s to the mid 1970s. Although there were dozens of lunch box manufacturing companies of the time, two of the most well known are Aladdin Industries and KST. Other manufacturers include:

  • American Thermos
  • ADCO Liberty
  • Okay Industries
  • Landers, Frary and Clark
  • Universal Industries
  • Zak Designs

Lunch Box Resources


Originally selling for approximately $2.00, many vintage lunch boxes now sell at auction prices of several hundred to several thousand dollars. However, if you are thinking of beginning a lunch box collection, there are still many styles on the market for $20.00 and up.

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Vintage Lunch Boxes