During the 1950s, Aladdin Industries established itself as one of the most prominent creators of lunch box art. But how did the company achieve such prominent status, what happened to it and where is all the artwork now?
1. The Growth Of Aladdin Industries
Founded in 1908 by a Chicago soap salesman named Victor Samuel Johnson, the company received its name from its main product, the kerosene “Aladdin’s” lamp. After successfully diversifying into cooking jars and dishes, Mr. Johnson sadly died in 1943 and was succeeded by Victor Johnson Jr. who diversified further into metal lunch box production and relocated the company to Nashville, Tennessee in 1949.
By the late 1940s and early 1950s, executives in the entertainment industry had begun to heavily push the merchandise possibilities of their movie stars and TV cartoon characters. Usually, this meant partnering with manufacturers who could mass produce such items. Back at Aladdin, this trend was spotted very early on by Mr. Johnson Jr. who was keen to put Clarence E. Mulford’s Hopalong Cassidy character on one of the company’s boxes. However, this idea actually got delayed until Vernon Church, Aladdin’s new sales manager, fully saw the potential, arranged a licensing deal and got the product to market. The artwork itself was designed by Robert O. Burton.
2. What Happened To Aladdin?
Leaving aside the small “slip up” of turning down a licensing deal with Roy Rogers, who later went to have tremendous success with rival American Thermos, Aladdin continued to do well. Although the heyday of the metal lunch box was largely over by the late 1960s or early 1970s, Aladdin grew its business organically and through an acquisition which strengthened its offering in the meals and drinks container market. The company’s success continued until the late 1990s when there were a number of poor management decisions. These would eventually prove catastrophic and in 2002 the Nashville operations closed its doors. Fortunately, in the same year, the firm was bought by Pacific Market International who turned the company around such that today it continues to thrive! It is a testament to the strength of the Aladdin brand that PMI decided to keep its original name.
3. So Where Is All The Aladdin Lunch Box Art Today?
Well firstly, according to the Lunchbox Collector’s 2011 Price Guide, there is probably a maximum of around 1,650 pieces of metal lunch box art that ever existed. This is because there were around 550 boxes manufactured between 1950 and 1987 with a maximum of 3 individual pieces of artwork on them (front, side and back). Crucially, it is suggested that approximately 80% of factories destroyed their art when they closed their doors years ago. So basically, there just isn’t much left and accordingly original artwork can easily fetch upwards of $1,000.
As far as Aladdin goes, the majority of their art was donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History based in Washington D.C. You can see their lunchbox inventory list online which was written by Alison L. Oswald in December 2003.