Thursday, August 23, 2012

The lunchbox has been a key accessory for American schoolkids for more than 60 years, according to Peter Liebhold, a curator with the National Museum of American History. It's an American status symbol, too. "Today, if you travel to Target, Walmart or other back-to-school retailers, you will see kids and parents constructing their identity through lunchboxes (as well as clothes, backpacks and binders)," Liebhold noted in an e-mail.

The lunchbox as we know it can be traced back to 1935 when Geuder, Paeschke & Frey produced the first licensed character lunchbox with Mickey Mouse on it. But it wasn't until after World War II when the lunchbox entered its prime.

After the war, the economy, with a growing middle class, was robust, and consumers were willing to spend more money on all kinds of things, including lunchboxes. "Increasingly, identity in the postwar period was seen through consumed items so individuals were picky about what their lunchbox said about them," Liebhold said.

Fans interested in a larger collection may want to consider a road trip to the Lunchbox Museum in Columbus, Georgia. Museum owner Allen Woodall Jr. claims it's the largest collection of school lunchboxes in the world, with some 2,000 pieces on display.

"Lunchboxes have so much character. To me they are time capsules," he said. "They really bring back a lot of great memories to a lot of people."

Woodall said guests to the museum are usually drawn to boxes that represent the era when they were schoolkids. "Western-themed, sci-fi fantasy, Disney-themed, the Beatles and Kiss are popular lunchboxes, too," he said.

The classic metal lunchbox era came to an end with concerns (among parents and lawmakers) that pieces of metal could be used as weapons at schools, Woodall said. He said most collectors cite 1985's Sylvester Stallone "Rambo" model (which he has on display at his museum) as the last metal box made for children.
From that point on, box manufacturers switched from metal to softer plastic lunchboxes. "I think the newer boxes lack the character and workmanship than the older metal boxes," he said.

"There is definitely an American fascination with lunchboxes, and I'm glad to be a huge part of it."

1 comment:

  1. Here's a price guide for old mickey mouse lunchboxes