Were Metal Lunch Boxes Really Banned?

How many of you actually had one of these as a kid: iconic, metal lunch boxes that were slightly rusted, often dented, and blazoned over with pictures of your favorite band, TV show, cartoon, or teen heartthrob? If you were born after 1985, chances are you did not! The National Museum of American History says this year saw the production of the last of the metal lunch boxes. What was on it? Sylvester Stallone as Rambo!

There is an interesting theory out there about the reason metal lunch boxes disappeared. The blog Retro Planet says that in 1972 a group of Florida parents petitioned for metal lunch boxes to be banned. NPR says this account is one of two competing theories. Allegedly, kids used the lunch boxes to pummel each other, and based on this, metal lunch boxes were banned from schools. Though this juicy claim has been perpetuated on several internet sites, it seems to be only an urban myth: NPR's investigation found no laws on Florida's books banning metal lunch boxes in schools.

One thing that probably helped fuel this myth was a song released in 1995 by heavy metal rocker Marilyn Manson, titled "Lunchbox." In an article for Rolling Stone, Manson shared that he wrote the song about his childhood KISS lunch box, which he used to defend himself on the playground. (So maybe the claims of lunch boxes as weapons had some truth to them!) In this piece, Manson also references the purported lunch box ban, calling it a way to deter "delinquents."

So what really happened to metal lunch boxes?

It turns out, the real reason lunch box manufacturers moved away from metal was simply to save money. Basic, metal lunch carriers were used by laborers as far back as the 1800s (via How Stuff Works). Eventually, children began using them for school lunches, and early, kid-centered versions had illustrations and picnic basket shapes.

The real boom began in 1950 when, according to the History Channel, the company Aladdin Industries created the first lunch box featuring a favorite television character: Hopalong Cassidy. And it came with a Thermos! From there, NPR shares that metal lunch boxes were the hottest thing in school, and through the next four decades depicted hundreds of popular TV shows, movies, cartoon characters, and more.

So what brought about the end of kitschy metal lunch boxes? Kitschy plastic ones. How Stuff Works shares that the late '70s saw the first plastic and vinyl lunch boxes, which were cheaper for companies to produce than metal boxes. Soft and flexible plastic lunch boxes were easier to squash into overloaded school backpacks. And so we said goodbye to the metal lunch box.

If you come across an old one in an attic, basement, or at a flea market, you have a chance to relive the glory days of these rusty, but fun metal lunch boxes. (Just imagine carrying one of these retro gems into work with you.) Just remember: please don't use them to hurt anyone!