Paileontology: A history of the lunchbox



Beyond the Pail

A Mickey Mouse lunch box in 1935 was a forerunner to what was to come, but it wasn't until 1950 that the medium entered its prime. A company called Aladdin emerged from Nashville with the first in an odd postwar marriage of cold sandwiches and hot popular culture.

It was a move of desperation. The postwar market had created a demand for all kinds of consumer goods which Aladdin had ridden for a few good years, but metal lunch boxes are durable and once you bought one, there was no reason to buy another for a decade or two. Staring at charts of slumping sales, Aladdin execs started throwing around ideas:

"We've got these plain boxes why don't we jazz them up with decals?"

"Kids seem to like cowboys and Indians, and TV stations are showing a lot of old western movies to fill time."

"Not just cowboys and Indians, how about using a TV cowboy? Maybe Hopalong Cassidy?" Aladdin, taking a cue from the auto market, had stumbled into the idea of planned obsolescence in which people would replace perfectly good products for the sake of fleeting style. The company hired a top industrial designer who sketched out a prototype of the cowboy star, which they slapped onto the side of a red lunch box. On the strength of that, they convinced a big department store chain to make an advance order of 50,000.