Saturday, February 19, 2011

19 February 1957 “The Lunchbox: White Collar or Blue? And Pic-Nic Anyone?”

workingmanlunchbox Though many may have the image of the vintage metal lunch box as a ‘blue-collar’ tradition. Many a white collared middle class fellow subscribed to the ‘take it with you’ approach to lunch.

50smanlunchboxEven a President enjoyed a good lunchbox.

Thanwlunchbox Here is hubby off to work with lunchbox.

 lunchbox1Here is his lunchbox closed up and read to go. And what lurks inside?

 lunchbox2 A sandwich wrapped in waxed paper, tupperware full of homemade cookies and a thermos of fresh coffee. Often I pack another version of the previous nights dinner for him. It is actually rare for him to have a sandwich. Some of his co-workers can’t wait to see what he has packed. Once a co-worker was surprised by my having packed him cheese and crackers as a starter.

The amount we save on his taking lunch as opposed to his buying it is really immense. I would say it cost more that double, more like triple the amount to buy rather than take his packed lunch. And what style, I think!

alladinlunchbox This is another version of a lunch bag, though this would be more for picnics. I actually had this same set up, but later found a picnic basket I liked better so I sold it.

homemadelunchbox This lunchbox was fabricated by a working man. Read about it HERE on this flickr page. The loving father who made this also made a miniature version for his little daughter.

kidslunchboxOf course, we often think of school children when we think of lunchboxes.

barnlunchbox This barn lunch box from the 1950’s would have been my choice had I been a child then. I loved and adored all things  farm or agricultural as a child. And, in fact, I still do to this day.

Once the Industrial Revolution was well under way, taking lunch with you often became a necessity. In the mid to late 19th century, hampers or pails were used. Certainly, at that stage, a take along lunch was a sign of  the ‘working class’. picnic1898 Unless one had a lovely hamper attended by footman or other servants  for the upper classes, or the afternoon picnic of the middle classesmiddleclasspicnic , the need to ‘take it with you’ then was a matter of necessity.

Before actual lunch tins/boxes/pails were thought of as a manufactured product, young children often made over tobacco or cookie/biscuit tins.

01E01JS10426_CompositeColor_AllZones In 1935, Geuder, Paeschke and Frey produced the first licensed character lunch box with Mickey Mouse. Though it had no sealed coffee/milk thermos, just a pull out tray.

hoppalong It wasn’t until 1950 that the first official mass produced character  kid’s lunch box was made. “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.” That would make it roughly about $20 dollars in today’s money.

So Alladin, an American company, that still exists but is very much downsized today, was the major creater of metal character themed lunch boxes for children. That is until

“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 states.”

Though plastic was set to replace steel lunchboxes at some point, it was this legislation that helped bring the plastic forward. Despite this, however, metal lunchboxes were still made into the 1980s.

Recently (in the 21st century) most lunchboxes are more bags made out of vinyl with foam insulation. These, as are many things, are mass produced in China and in 2002 the Center for Environmental Health discovered that many popular vinyl lunch boxes contained dangerously high levels of lead.

The metal lunch pail also blossomed to replaced the usual wicker or wood picnic basket in the 1950’s. Many had the lovely plaids popular then.metalpicnic1 metalpicnic2 S0me even were printed to appear to be wicker like or wood grain.

metalpicnic4 metalpicnic5 metalpicnic3

picnicchecklist Here is the checklist and picnic ideas from my General Foods Cookbook from the 1950’s.

Any way you slice it, or dice it for that matter, food on the go, made by you, just makes sense: both fiscal and flavor. If you are intimidated by bring you own, try just replacing one of your or a loved one’s eat out lunch a week with a packed one. And with so many fun vintage containers out there, some rather affordable, go in style.

Though there may be much to be said for the ease and speed of the modern world, I think style and flavor has a lot to be recommended. Give it a try, you might get hooked.

Happy Homemaking.


  1. At our house we pack six lunches each day; for my husband and I to take to work, and for the kids to take to school. The one downside I have found to bringing lunch from home is that one then tends to eat it at the desk. There is much to be said for going *out* for lunch, even if only for a short walk in the sun.


  2. GenealogistHomemakerFebruary 19, 2011 at 5:55 PM

    Great post :D I love the old metal lunchboxes, how cute! I didn't know about the protest against them, how silly! But then that's a whole other issue.
    I have always enjoyed making packed lunches for my other half and agree it saves so much money! His work mates get quite jealous!

  3. My Father was a Surgeon in Boston from 1930-1999, and everyday he brought a tuna sandwich (made by my Mother) and a banana. He had coffee at the office and ate at his desk everyday. No only was his lunch frugal, but his weight remained the same from his 20s-his 90s; how many of us can claim that?

  4. My grandparents were both blue collar workers in the 50's and both took their lunches each day to work. They were the children of the Depression after all! That attitude must have been passed down to their daughter, my mother, because even when I was going to school in the 60's and 70's she would pack my lunch and put it in my Charlie Brown/Peanuts lunchbox with a thermos.

    These days I always pack something for my husband to take to work with him, which wasn't always our habit. I've noticed how much money we save packing his lunch.

    Great post!

  5. I always wondered why the metal lunch boxes were more often than not domed for the lid. I never thought it would to hold the thermos! What an ingenious idea on the part of the inventor.

    When I was working full-time I always took my lunch with me. I'd rather stay in and read while I eat than spend time rushing. A few times a month I'd go up to the corner store where the best sandwich shop in town is hidden. I could get a totally filling lunch for $5. Yummy sandwiches. I always walked up there too.

    My lunchbox now is one of the foam ones with The Little Mermaid on it. My sister got a metal Star Trek one for Christmas and she carries it to work nearly every day.

  6. I was given a heavy silver-colored metal thermos by a neighbor. What a find! Nothing could destroy that thing.

    My father always took his lunch to work.

  7. I remember the first time I got a lunch box to take to school that DIDN'T have characters on it (6th grade - it was a 'mod' one with a swinging strap and looked like leather!) I thought I was so grown up. My kids never carried their lunches to school but now as adults they do to work because it's the earth-friendly thing to do - so there's another one to add - it's not a blue thing or a white thing, it's a GREEN thing!

  8. My father (a carpenter) took his lunch to work each day. I remember one day he had to borrow my Heathcliff thermos because his was broken. I'm sure he got some teasing from his co-workers that day!

    My hubby packs his lunch each day, usually leftovers from the night before. And I pack the kids' lunches for school. I take my lunch into the office a few times a week. But I also like to have lunches out at a cafe.

    Mary Ellen
    The Working Home Keeper

  9. What a great post! We often drive home for lunch, which costs gas money, but I suppose it does save on restaurant meals. It's nice to get away from the office for a while, especially since we don't have a good place (other than our desks) to eat lunch.

    Thanks for all the photos of lunchboxes and picnic baskets. I would love to have a box or Thermos in plaid! My school lunchbox was plaid; I can't IMAGINE why we ever got rid of it!

  10. How do you get your sandwiches wrapped so neatly in wax paper? Mine always come our crinkled!

  11. My kids like to buy their lunch at school but bring it on occasion. Hubby eats out with co-workers or eats leftovers if he's working at home. I always bring food with me on the days I'm out and about. It's not always a "lunch" in the traditional sense but much better than finding real food while running errands. Usually a little bag of nuts and dried fruit, a bottle of water ("bottled" at home), a piece of fruit, and some cut carrots or other veggie eaten raw.

    Darling lunch boxes. I think I had a red plad mini version with the dome for the thermos.

  12. I hope your hubby knows how spoiled he is! :) He looks like a very happy man.

    I have a remake of such lunchbox, in red plastic. They are not common here in Denmark. Mine has an icebox (cooler box) at the lid, to keep the food cool. I've loved it for twenty years.

    I have two vintage picnic boxes, with trays, which I use for all my bracelets. I collect vintage charm bracelets and storing them this way, I have no problem finding the right one for my outfit.

    I love picnics and have a modern, but vintage looking, rucksack, which keeps the food cool and have everything needed for a picnic - even salt and pepper. I love it.

    Such a lovely post, and such lovely photos. I'll download the picnic checklist, I might need it this Summer.

  13. Sanne-that is such a cute idea for jewelry storage, we may need some photos of that.
    Kim-this is how I wrap my sandwiches. Take waxed paper and lay sandwich on it. Before you fold down, bring together the to pieces at the top and carefully, but quickly, fold it over then fold down (like making a paper fan) and simply tuck and go. I feel like a 'how to' segment. Maybe for fun, I should did a photo tutorial.

  14. I love those old lunch boxes! I'd get one for my hubby but he would refuse to use it, claiming he'd be laughed at. Sigh.

  15. Betsy-I am very lucky with my husband that way. He, like myself, have always 'danced to the beat of our own drum' so we rarely care what others say. Perhaps this is a bad attitude, but for me, as with my vintage clothes, I really enjoy it and if others laugh I think it is more about their own situation. And really, the norms of today will be laughable in a decade anyway, so why worry.
    My hubby is also good when we have fancy dress/costume parties holidays, he never minds. He has worn silk knee breeches and stockings and a powdered wig when we were French Nobleman and courtesan for Halloween. Victorian Garb for our Dickens Christmas and is always willing to wear his tuxedo. I guess we just like dressing up and I never thought about it, but I have some friends whose husbands literally 'refuse'. And if you want to stick out like a sore thumb, wear jeans and t-shirt to a black tie event.
    Maybe if you got him one and told him he might set the trend, he'd give it a try. We never know unless we ask and we never know unless we try. Good luck.

  16. I love to spoil my hubby too by sending interesting packed lunches for him each day. He gets lots of nice compliments from his colleagues (which makes me feel good.) Your darling looks so dapper! Linda

  17. All of these are gorgeous, but I especially love the metal plaid ones! Just stumbled upon your blog and will continue to read along. :)

  18. A tutorial would be awesome! A little You Tube video???!


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