February 26, 2013

Teen Life Way Back When: The Lunch Pail

This photo from the Old Schoolhouse Museum in Mary Esther, Florida, evokes all kinds of images.  I can see an eight year old girl wearing a sunbonnet and swinging her tin lunch pail as she walks to school, laughing with her friends along the way, the sun warm on their faces.

What, with no refrigeration, in the days before the thermos and the invention of waxed paper, aluminum foil and plastic sandwich bags, did the lunch pail contain?  Contemporary accounts talk about cornbread with syrup, bread and lard with a little sugar, fresh fruit, nuts, a wedge of cheese, dried beef jerky.  Often, the lunch was based on left-overs from the day before and reflected the ethnicity of the family, perhaps Irish, Italian, German or Swedish.  Peanut butter wasn't invented until the 1890's, so for most of the nineteenth century no peanut butter and jelly sandwiches ( a personal favorite of mine)!  The children drank water from a dipper out of a bucket.  The water had to be carried from the nearest well or the children took turns at pumping it up from the well in the schoolyard.  Food was wrapped in a handkerchief or a piece of cloth.

If parents could afford it, they purchased a tin lunch pail.  If not, an empty cookie or tobacco tin was put to use. Commercial, decorated lunch pails, so popular in the 20th century, hadn't been invented yet and the public school lunch program wasn't instituted until the 1940's.

For references and additional reading, see the Extras tab.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment!