Long before name-brand tennis shoes and clothing became status symbols of who you were as a young school-aged kid, popularity was harnessed into one small practical accessory — a lunch box.
Before Walmart stores became the trend, Soldiers from Fort Benning visited stores like the Post Exchange and the now-defunct Millers and Gaylords department stores to purchase school supplies to help prepare their children for the upcoming school year, which inevitably included looking for a new lunch box. After all, the coolest kid was always the kid with the coolest lunch box.
Those are some of my memories of growing up as a Soldier’s kid in South Columbus.
On Thursday, I relived some of those memories as I walked through one of the best-kept secrets in Columbus, the Lunch Box Museum.
With almost 2,000 lunch boxes and nearly 1,600 thermoses, Allen Woodall, owner of the museum, has been collecting lunch boxes for more than 20 years. Woodall, and the museum, has been recognized by the Smithsonian Institute, The Washington Post and other prominent newspaper publications. He’s also been featured on The Today Show and recently was the subject of a Georgia Public Broadcasting feature.
Although Woodall never carried a lunch box to school — he carried a brown paper bag — a chance encounter and a memory led him to begin collecting.
“I was at a flea market in Atlanta at the Lakewood Fairgrounds and I saw a Green Hornet and a Dick Tracy on the table and it reminded me of listening to both those shows on the radio back in the forties,” he said. “I picked them up and looked at ‘em and said, ‘Those are really cool,’ and I bought them. That started the whole thing.”
Woodall said since the first production of the metal boxes, Hopalong Cassidy in 1951, there were about 760 different boxes made.
He said production of metal lunch boxes ceased in 1985 primarily due to a court decision ruling the metal lunch boxes were dangerous because kids were “fighting with them” in school. Ironically, the final metal lunch box in production was Rambo in 1985.
Although the main focus of the museum is on metal lunch boxes, Woodall has extended his collection by gathering post-1985 plastic lunch boxes, as well.
Woodall said the plastic, or mold-injected lunch boxes, have value as well, and would grow in value as time goes on.
He said one of the big reasons people are so attracted to the lunch boxes is the graphics. At the museum, Woodall has many proof sheets of the graphics used on the lunch boxes, which he obtained from the Aladdin factory in Chattanooga, Tenn.
From a vintage heated lunch box from the 1930s to the final Rambo lunch box of 1985, chances are you can find a lunch box you remember at the Lunch Box Museum — along with a memory of days gone by.
Did you know?
There was only one Dick Tracy lunch box.
There were seven different Roy Rogers lunch boxes.
The Hopalong Cassidy lunch box was made in both red and blue in 1951.
Elvis Presley’s image was never on a production type lunch box.
Lunch boxes and thermoses are priced separately for collectors.
The Lunch Box Museum
Located at 318 10th Avenue inside the River Market Antique Mall at the International Marketplace, formerly the Columbus Farmer’s Market.
Open: Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday noon to 6 p.m. Admission is free.
More information, 706-332-6378.