Lunchbox, The Exciting World of Metrics

Lunchbox, The Exciting World of Metrics

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The objects children take to school can communicate messages. In the 1970s, the U.S. government encouraged more general use of the metric units of weight and measure, units that had been adopted in almost all other nations. To teach children about metric units, some parents purchased this lunch box.
The lid of this metal box illustrates four things commonly measured with metric units (the output of power generators, the size of car and motorcycle engines, Olympic distances, and prescription drugs). The back shows decimal units of length, weight, volume, and temperature. One side shows the U.S. decimal currency, while the other shows natural phenomena associated with decimal units (the century plant, the centipede, and the millipede). The top has a scale of inches with their equivalent lengths in centimeters. The bottom illustrates decimal units of time.
The lunch box contains a blue thermos with a white rim and red cap. It holds eight ounces of liquid.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Date made
ca 1976
King-Seeley Thermos Company
Physical Description
metal (box and lid material)
plastic (handle material)
overall: 7 1/4 in x 8 5/8 in x 4 in; 18.415 cm x 21.9075 cm x 10.16 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of George A. Norton III
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Metric System
Science & Mathematics
Measuring & Mapping
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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This morning I posted a photo of my daughter going to first grade. Next to it, I posted a photo of my first day of first grade. I stood next to my brothers who had cool Space 1999 lunchboxes. My lunchbox was so blurry in the photo that I could not tell what it said, but I could get a general idea of where the letters were and a vague sense of the pictures. I tried enlarging it, zooming in, enhancing it, to no avail. I decided to google "lunchbox 1976," which is when the photo was taken, and a picture of my first grade lunchbox popped up at the top of the page! I had "The Exciting World of Metrics" lunchbox! Little did I know all those years ago that this was a piece of history. I don't remember the lunchbox at all, nor why I chose it, or if I even chose it! It seems like something I would have chosen, as I was not into Barbie or princesses or anything like that. I was bit of a tomboy and evidently a bit of a nerd! It's a strange thing to put on a kids' lunchbox, but I kinda love it!
My mom came home one day with this lunchbox for me too. I didn't want to hurt her feelings when she kept asking me if I liked it. I would reply, "It's ok I guess". She would always say, "What's wrong with it?" and "I think it's cute". So off to school I went with it. My brothers lunchbox was painted to look like a tooled leather saddle material. Not cool either, but definitely better than mine. I took a little ribbing about it, but luckily was pretty unscathed for the boy at school with an "Exciting World of Metrics" lunchbox. I have never EVER seen another one anywhere. Many kids no doubt saved by a limited production run.
One day, tired of seeing kids sport their cool Superfriends, Adam-12 and Marvel Comics lunchboxes everyday while I had to eat regular school lunches, I begged my mother to please, please buy me a cool lunchbox to I could be popular. One day, she came home from the store with a big surprise for me, and she was so excited that I couldn't wait to see what she had bought for me. The Exciting World of Metrics. I only took it to school one time. After that my dork status was sealed—a label that stuck with me throughout my school years, long after the other kids had forgotten about the lunchbox (after all, they had only seen it the one time).

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