The collection consists of approximately 50 cubic feet of material documenting Aladdin Industries Inc., manufacturers of vacuum ware and lunch boxes. The majority of the material dates from 1947 to the 1970s. The strength of the collection is with the lunch box documentation and product development, marketing, and sales records. There is some interesting labor history—specifically United Steel Workers agreement. The files of Victor S. Johnson, Sr. and Victor S. Johnson, Jr. form the core of the collection and provide rich documentation on the company's activities.
The collection is divided into seventeen series.
Series 1: Historical and Background Materials, 1919-1997
Series 2: Victor S. Johnson Sr. Files, 1916-1945
Series 3: Victor S. Johnson Jr. Files, 1906-1983
Series 4: Employee and Personnel Records, 1910-2001
Series 5: Research and Development Records, 1910-1976
Series 6: Patent Records, 1889-1973
Series 7: Sales Records, 1939-2000
Series 8: Advertising and Marketing Records, 1931-2001
Series 9: School Lunch Kits, 1952-1989
Series 10: Lamps and Kerosene Heaters, 1911-2000
Series 11: Temp-Rite, 1972-2000
Series 12: Competitors, 1963-2001
Series 13: Style Guides, 1966-1998
Series 14: Newsletters, 1943-1998
Series 15: Photographs, 1923-1986
Series 16: Scrapbooks, 1908-1962
Series 17: Audiovisual Materials, 1993-1996
Biographical / Historical:
Victor Samuel Johnson Sr., (1882-1943) was born in Nebraska. As a soap salesman for the Iowa Soap Company, he became interested in kerosene mantle burners. Dissatisfied with the available kerosene lamps, he began selling and dealing U.S. made mantles and incorporated the Mantle Lamp Company of America in Chicago in 1908. Johnson selected the name "Aladdin" from the famous story, "Aladdin; or The Wonderful Lamp." Johnson began research and development of a mantle lamp that gave off a steady white light and did not smoke. The Mantle Lamp Company began manufacturing lamps in 1912, with Plume & Atwood Manufacturing Company burners, and marketed them as "Aladdin Lamps." The company diversified in 1917 and began producing insulated cooking dishes, known as Aladdin Thermalware jars, for the U.S. military. These jars had an aluminum or steel jacket wrapped around a heavy glass receptacle. The space between was filled with cork. The introduction of the thermalware began the company's venture into heat and cold retaining receptacles.
In 1919, Johnson organized a subsidiary of the Mantle Lamp Company of America, Aladdin Industries, Inc., to market and sell the Aladdin thermalware jars and vacuum ware. At the same time, Mantle lamp Company of America formed Aladdin Limited in Canada and England to sell thermalware as well as Pathfinder Radio Corporation, Cadillac Photograph Corporation, Aladdin Chemical Corporation, Aladdin Phonograph Corporation, Johnson Laboratories, Inc. (radio components), and Aladdin Radio Industries (magnetic and radio research). Pathfinder, Cadillac, Aladdin Chemical and Aladdin Phonograph all failed. In 1926, the Mantle Lamp Company acquired Lippincott Glass Company of Alexandria, Indiana, where it manufactured and fabricated glass chimneys, shades and lamp bases, mantles, wicks, and metal lamp bases. The Alexandria plant closed in 1952 and eventually moved to Nashville.
In 1943, Victor S. Johnson Sr. died and his son, Victor S. Johnson Jr. (1906-), succeeded him as president of Aladdin Industries Inc. Johnson Jr. moved Aladdin from Chicago to Nashville, Tennessee in 1949 to place the company strategically in mid-America to distribute its products. Aladdin's general offices, vacuum bottle production, and electric lamps and kerosene completed the move by 1952.
In 1950, Aladdin began illustrating flat metal school lunch kits (lunch boxes with liquid containers) with images of popular radio, movie and television figures. Hopalong Cassidy was the first character kit. This innovative marketing decision produced an explosive growth in the lunch kit market and made Aladdin a pioneer in image licensing. Character lunch boxes became a large part of the childhood experience and are collector's items today. Over the years, Aladdin extended the range of characters depicted and began manufacturing plastic and soft, vinyl lunch kits with printed themes. It also introduced "3D" embossing on the flat metal kits. Embossed metal lunch kits were completely phased out in 1986 due to high production costs. In addition to the school lunch kits, Aladdin also introduced wide mouth vacuum bottles (pint and quart size) in 1953. The wide mouth bottles also carried "adult" themes such as the "Angler" fisherman's bottle. The thermosware line eventually moved from metal to plastic jackets and from a glass insulated filler to foam.
In 1965, Aladdin purchased the Stanley steel bottle operation from Landers, Frary and Clark in New Britain, Connecticut. Aladdin's diversification strategy led to the introduction in 1968 of the Temp-Rite® meal distribution plan, an insulated thermal tray service for hospitals, the airline industry, and prisons. The Temp-Rite® system gave rise to a full line of products and services and Aladdin formed a subsidiary, known as Aladdin Synergetics, Inc., to handle its health care and food service operations. Aladdin Synergetics was sold to Welbilt Corporation in 1998; the new operation was named Aladdin Temp-Rite. Other products added over the years included electric lamps, shades, kerosene stoves, and an electronics division in 1956. This division was established from a small technical research group whose function was patent licensing. As a subsidiary of Aladdin Industries, it produced transformers and radio and telephone filters. The subsidiary was sold to Vernitron in October, 1979.
At various times, Aladdin established offices in Alexandria, Indiana; Chicago, Illinois; Nashville, Tennessee; Portland Oregon, Canada; Hungry; France; Australia, New Zealand; England; Iraq, Iran, Brazil, Japan, Peru, Venezuela, Chile, Uruguay, France, Germany, Iceland, Sweden, and South Africa to market and sell its products.
Aladdin was financially mismanaged in the 1990s and rapidly declined. Aladdin Industries Inc. reorganized in 1999 and became known as Aladdin Industries LLC. High labor costs and unsuccessful efforts to develop new products led to further decline. By January, 2002, Aladdin had sold its remaining product lines and closed its Nashville plant. Aladdin lamps are still sold today by the Aladdin Mantle Lamp Company of Clarksville, Tennessee.
The Division of Cultural History, National Museum of American History, holds 30 lunch boxes and 28 thermos bottles from Aladdin Industries, Nashville, Tennessee. Additionally, there is a pair of lamps. See Accession 2003.0255. Although the children's steel lunch boxes predominate, the collection represents the full spectrum of Aladdin box designs including vinyl, hard plastic, and fabric.
Donated to the Archives Center by Aladdin Industries in 2003.
Collection is open for research.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.