- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2005

Mention “Thermos” and most people over 15 can recall the character — the Partridge Family, Rainbow Brite or Pocahontas — on the first one they carried to elementary school.

Ask someone under 12 what container they carry in their lunchbox, and they’ll show you a juice box or disposable soup container.

The convenience of disposable products and the widespread use of microwaves has sent traditional Thermoses, once the cafeteria standby for hot soup or cold juice, to the big kitchen cabinet in the sky.

Batman, Barbie and the Peanuts were just a few of the cartoon characters to grace a Thermos and corresponding lunchbox in their heyday of the 1950s to the mid-1980s.

“I remember the ‘Six Million Dollar Man’ and even ‘Julia’ reminds me of when I was really little,” Jenny St. Louis said as she peered into the “Taking America to Lunch” exhibit of lunchboxes and drink containers at the National Museum of American History yesterday.

Dennis Landry, who had Daniel Boone and Batman Thermoses, associates a “lunchtime” smell with memories of his lunchbox.

“It brings me back to elementary school and not wanting to go,” said Mr. Landry, 47, who was visiting Washington from Connecticut. “My lunchbox always had a smell to it, and I had a Thermos that always had milk in it.”

Each age group — from children of the ‘50s, who had Barbie dolls and Western stars like John Wayne, to the ‘80s, where Care Bears, GI Joe and He-Man were in vogue — had a distinct group of Thermoses.

Today’s students, a majority of whom bring juice boxes and water bottles to school, won’t have the cultural icons to look back on.

“We’re like ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ looking at these” lunchboxes and Thermoses, said Mrs. St. Louis, a 40-year-old Californian visiting the District. “They’re not going to be able to identify with [character] lunchboxes.”

Hopalong Cassidy, a 1950s Western star, was the first TV character to grace a lunchbox with a Thermos built in. Rambo, in the 1980s, was the last plastic Thermos and lunchbox star, according to David Shayt, a curator at the exhibit and a lunchbox collector.

Thermoses had to be cleaned each night and stowed somewhere until the end of the school day. Parents and students found the convenience of disposable juice boxes and containers, which have risen in popularity since the chunky Thermoses’ heyday, to be a significant timesaver.

“We’ve gotten away from the clear, reusable containers,” said Jack Youst, a Laurel father of five, as he maneuvered through the school supply aisle at Wal-Mart. “We’re most sensitive about time. I tell my wife we try to buy time” with products that don’t need to be washed.

“We like the disposable because the kids can take it, eat it and discard it,” he said.

The Yousts’ reusable containers sit untouched on a shelf, he said.

“The last one we had was three pieces — the insulator, the bottle and the cup — and we lost the cup,” Mr. Youst said.

Becky Jefferson, a Laurel mother shopping at Target, isn’t fazed by the greater expense of individual products than buying a large container of juice and reusable containers.

“It’s convenient, that’s the main thing,” she said. “It’s easier to buy them, put them in the fridge and put in the lunch.”

While parents attribute Thermoses’ decline to the rise of disposable packaging, spokeswoman Tanya Johnson said Thermos, which turned 100 last year, is still going strong.

“We’re constantly trying to innovate and make things relevant to consumers’ lifestyles,” Ms. Johnson said.

Thermos’ product line has diversified, including new Hydration Bottles, which keeps water cold for 11 hours, and Funtainers, which hold both hot and cold foods.

Thermos, a Rolling Meadows, Ill., company, has replaced Thermoses made with foam insulation and are capable of maintaining temperature for four hours, with sleeker Thermoses made through vacuum processing — heat removes the air between two pieces of glass or plastic — that requires less space and keeps contents hot or cold for seven to 24 hours.


1818: Tin-plated can is introduced to America.

1825: First tin-plated can is patented in the U.S.

1892: The first successful vacuum bottle is created by James Dewar, an English scientist.

1904: German newspapers hold a contest to name the vacuum bottle. “Thermos,” from the Greek word “therme” meaning heat, was chosen.

1906: The first imported “thermos” bottles from Germany are sold in the U.S.

1907: The first American “thermos” bottle is made in Brooklyn, N.Y., by the American thermos Bottle Co.

1911: American Thermos makes its first workman’s lunch kit with a thermos bottle.

1920: american Thermos makes the first plan, flat children’s lunch kit.

1935: Mickey Mouse is the first licensed character for a lunch kit.

1950: Aladdin Industries’ Hopalong Cassidy is the first licensed TV character kit. 600,000 boxes and bottles are sold in the first year.

1953: American Thermos sells the Roy Rogers lunch kit, the first fully lithographed steel lunch box and bottle.

1959: The first vinyl lunch boxes.

1960: American Thermos is bought by King Seeley to become King Seeley Thermos Co., or KST.

1968-1969: Aladdin switches from traditional steel-glas to plastic-glass bottles.

1972: KST switches from steel-glass to plastic bottles and producees the first injection-molded plastic box.

1985-87: Companies stop producing steel lunch boxes.

2001: Aladin Industries LLC sells its thermos business to Pacific Market International. Aladdin also sells its plastic insulated mugs, tumblers and coolers business to Thermo-Serv Ltd.

Source: Lunch Box Pad

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