If you went to school in the 1970s, chances are you witnessed some of the greatest lunch boxes of all time, even if you didn’t carry one yourself.
Truth is, most truly cool kids wouldn’t have been caught dead lugging a metal box and plastic thermos to the lunch room each day.
But for the rest of us, these cold cut buckets were as formative as some of our favorite toys. And you could tell a lot about a kid by the lunch box he carried.
Here, then, are 14 classic lunch boxes from the 1970s, and the kids who carried them.
The Six Million Dollar Man — Cool Craig
The Bionic Man was just about the coolest dude on TV in the 1970s, and Cool Craig was his grade school counterpart.
Craig once fell off the top of the slide, bounced off the ground 20 feet below, grunted, and climbed back up the slide ladder.
He was “going with” a different girl every other day, and none of them seemed to mind.
He got all Cs, but the teacher had him over to shoot pool on the weekend.
Craig was cool.
Craig ate out of a The Six Million Dollar Man lunch box.
Evel Knievel — Dirt Bike Doug
In some ways, Evel Knievel was even cooler than Steve Austin because he was a real person (allegedly).
A real (allegedly) person who would jump over canyons on his motorcycle and make your dad buy crank-up toy bikes because he would have killed for something like that when he was a kid.
Everybody loved Evel Knievel.
But Dirt Bike Doug thought he was going to be Evel Knievel. Heck, Doug thought he already was Evel Knievel.
Doug rode his dirt bike all summer long, and all winter long.
He jumped puddles.
He used ramps to jump broken down cars on his back lot.
He rode through town popping a wheelie all the way.
He rode through thick patches of sticker bushes in shorts, without a shirt or shoes.
He had more scars by the time he was eight than you’ll have in your whole life.
And Doug carried an Evel Knievel lunch box.
The Dukes of Hazzard — Shotgun Steve
The Dukes of Hazzard were good ‘ol boys.
Shotgun Steve was a good ol’ boy, too, and he did all the things a good ol’ boy did.
He could change the oil in a car by the time he was five.
He drove a muscle car … when he was ten.
He went hunting before school every morning and came to class in his camouflage gear.
In high school, he had a gun rack in the pickup he drove to school, replete with rifles and shotguns.
And he ate under the hood of Bo, Luke, and Daisy Duke.
Emergency! — Chest Spike Chester
Emergency! may have been a little too adult for most of your friends, but there was always that one guy who was intense, maybe even mature, in kindergarten or before.
That was Chester.
Chester would call out the bullies on the play ground and walk back to class with the bullied.
Chester didn’t get great grades, but always seemed to understand things at a different level than the rest of the class.
Chester was bound to serve in some way or another, and he was always on the lookout for an opportunity to do so.
That’s why you never wanted to get hurt around Chester, especially if you ended up on your back on the ground. Because then, Chester would slam his fist into your chest and start doing compressions.
To save you.
Just like he’d learned by watching Kevin Tighe and Randy Mantooth on Emergency!
So … what other lunch box would Chester have?
Welcome Back, Kotter — Bandwagon Brad
Brad was the kid who always wanted to please everyone around him, to just fit in. So he keyed in to what you all were doing and saying, then fed it back to you.
“How ’bout them Cowboys?”
“Did you get your Skylab helmet yet?”
“Garfield for President!”
“Up your nose with a rubber hose.”
Brad was all about popularity, especially if it was innocuous and had little chance of polarizing the masses.
Enter Welcome Back, Kotter.
Never the #1 show during its four-year run, Kotter nevertheless appealed to just about everyone, from kids to parents to teachers. And the catchphrases were great.
It was the perfect vehicle for Brad and his social aspirations.
So, yeah, Brad ate lunch with Gabe Kotter and the Sweathogs every day.
Speed Buggy — Little Brother Billy
When you were young enough, and if you were latched enough, Mom made all your decisions for you.
And that’s how things like the Speed Buggy lunch box made its way into the school lunchroom.
Now, don’t get me wrong …
Speed Buggy was a fine cartoon, a very fun cartoon at times.
But no kid worth his Big Wheel would choose a Speed Buggy lunch box when faced with all those other choices and the social consequences involved. It was a throwaway move, like voting for Ralph Nader.
But your little brother didn’t know about any of that, so he left his fate in the hands of your mother.
And Mom didn’t care about any of the social consequences. She just picked something “cute” for her “adorable” little boy.
And the schmuck lugged around his Speed Buggy lunch box for a full year. At least he learned the meaning of “resentment” for his troubles.
Little House on the Prairie — Rita the Writer
Little House on the Prairie had characters and story lines for just about everyone in the family.
But, on the whole, it was a bit too touchy-feely for boys who were trying to find the masculinity expected of them to admit they liked the show.
So there were no barn-raising games or push-Nellie-in-her-wheelchair games at recess. And we didn’t regale each other with tidbits from the latest episode the next morning at school, either.
But Rita was a studious girl, confident in her own skin but not part of the popular crowd. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, when she deemed it necessary, and she was true to her own beliefs, even as a kid.
And Rita was going to be a writer.
For Rita, Laura Ingalls and the Little House emphasis on learning were just about the best thing going on the tube.
So, you bet your sweet bippy Rita carried a Little House on the Prairie lunch box.
Star Wars — Geek Greg
In the 1970s, going to the movies wasn’t like it is today.
I mean, the average kid might be lucky to go to see a movie in the theater once a year if he was lucky. “Disposable income” was a complete oxymoron for most families, so the idea of movies as a birthright was outrageous.
All of which is to say that not everyone saw Star Wars, even though it was a blockbuster among blockbuster and lingered in theaters forever.
So, for many of us, Darth Vader and R2-D2 and Chewbacca and all the rest were exotic creatures who were completely out of reach … even if we somehow snagged a few Star Wars toys for Christmas or our birthdays.
Not Greg, though. Greg was the ultimate geek, even in grade school.
Not only had Greg seen Star Wars (or claimed to have), but he knew all sorts of obscure facts and theories, and he (claimed to) have every toy possible from the movie.
Nobody else had the pedigree to challenge Greg on any of this, so he was the Star Wars expert.
So, of course, he carried a Star Wars lunch box.
Peanuts — Peter Pan
Peanuts may very well be the greatest cartoon of all time, and, even today, there are few things that can lift me out of the doldrums like reading through a classic collection like “Love Is … Walking Hand in Hand.”
But, man, Charlie Brown and gang just don’t have — and never have had, as far as I can remember — much in-the-moment social sway.
They weren’t featured in video games.
You couldn’t watch them every Saturday morning.
No one talked about the Schultz gang … ever.
But there was always that one kid who had Peanuts everything. His name was Peter.
Peter was a momma’s boy, like your little brother, but several years older. Peter had Snoopy folders and a Woodstock toothbrush and Charlie Brown sheets and a Lucy watch.
And, not surprisingly, he kept to his theme all through high school.
So, naturally, Peter (Pan) carried a Peanuts lunch box, and he always, always finished his meal with a Dolly Madison pastry.
Charlie’s Angels — Leisure Suit Larry
I don’t know if it was like this everywhere, but my grade school had its own version of dating that we called “going with.”
It was all innocent. You hung out at recess, passed notes to each other, maybe held hands.
It was an ephemeral setup, too. You might be going with Judy one week and Angie the next.
But no one played that game quite like Larry … or at least that’s what he thought.
There was nothing special about Larry as far as you could tell, but he was convinced all the girls wanted to “go with” him. They didn’t.
Larry was undeterred, though, and kept exuding his, um, “charm” at every turn.
Larry also had expectations that involved marrying Farrah Fawcett or some other member of the 1970s “Beautiful People” royalty, which probably explained why he didn’t stick with one local infatuation for long.
Anyway, he’d be happy to tell you all about how relationships worked and how to land a beautiful girl. It was all he thought about.
So, really, what choice did Leisure Suit Larry have but to carry a Charlie’s Angels lunch box?
Adam-12 — Officer Bob
Just as every school had a guy like Chester (above), every school also had the kid who you knew from an early age was going to be a police officer.
Officer Bob always straddled the thin line between bully and enforcer, and he always seemed to be judging you in some way.
Bob would strictly enforce the rules of kickball or dodge ball, and he took major exception to any line-cutters at the water fountain.
But if you got to be his friend, Bob was fiercely loyal — so loyal that he’d feel bad if he had to turn you over to the teacher for some transgression.
Not surprisingly, Bob talked about cops and cop shows all the time … and he ate from an Adam-12 lunch pail.
Happy Days — Team Player Tim
Whereas Bandwagon Brad tried hard — too hard — to be popular, Team Player Tim came by it naturally.
He was on the football team, the basketball team, the baseball team … he was in Student Council and 4-H … he always seemed to be the line leader, and all the teachers liked him.
Tim wasn’t a star at any of this, but he was always in the thick of things, and folks always seemed happy that he was around. Tim was just like the happy-go-lucky ensemble star from a lighthearted feel-good sitcom.
Yeah, Tim and the Happy Days lunch box were a perfect match.
The Fonz — The Fonz
So … why did we need both a Happy Days lunch box and a The Fonz lunch box?
Because of kids like The Fonz.
Seriously, that was his name as far as we knew.
He wore leather jackets and a five o’clock shadow in third grade.
His mom brought him to school on a Harley.
He kept to himself at recess and at lunch, but he was one of the most popular kids at school, even if we didn’t know his name.
The Fonz was too cool to carry a lunch box, but he was too cool to eat school lunch, too. So he carried a lunch box.
He carried a The Fonz lunch box.
The Incredible Hulk — David Banner
The Incredible Hulk was second only to The Six Million Dollar Man as the quintessential 1970s action sci-fi series. And it was a conditional second depending on the year and the episodes that each proffered in a given week.
Everyone loved the Hulk, but no one more than the introspective little nerdy kid named David.
David could explain scientific principles like a pint-sized Bill Nye, and he had the most extensive comic book collection in your school.
And, of course, David knew everything there was to know about the Hulk.
But there was something dark and mysterious about David, too.
You could see it in his eyes.
You could see it in his posture.
And you could see it in the unidentifiable homemade vittles he ate each day from the depths of his The Incredible Hulk lunch box.