Sunday, September 3, 2017

Thinking about History during Back-to- School Season

As the summer wanes, it is the time of year we prepare for going back-to-school. The start of each school year is accompanied by annual traditions from buying school supplies to meeting the teacher.  The school supply list like everything else has changed some over time. A new addition in the late 20th century was the graphing calculator. My first graphing calculator was a Casio. It was the first technology purchased for me to use at school. Supply lists from more recent years listed tech items like usb drives and headphones as recommend. This year you can go back to school with the history of common school supplies. 

Lunch Boxes

Lunch boxes began as utilitarian products. As the 20th century progressed and school attendance became mandatory, the lunch box became a consumer item market for children. The lunch box was a way for children to share their interests. From Star Wars to Barbie, there was a lunch box for every interest and fashion. More than one Histocrat had a Star Wars lunch box. The Smithsonian has some great examples for you to enjoy. If you find lunch box art interesting, you can even visit the Lunch Box Museum in Columbus, Georgia.  NPR will give you a sneak peek before you go with their exploration of The History of Lunch Box.


School is one of the many venues for which pencils are produced. Even without standardized testing, the #2 pencil is common school supply. The history of the pencil is riddled with tales of Henry David Thoreau and innovations by NASA.  Pencils as well have become a canvas for pop culture imagery.  From cartoon images to pithy statements, the pencil has moved beyond its origin as a simple writing tool.  Many children of the 1990s remember the vivid colors and patterns of Lisa Frank school supplies.


Backpacks are another staple of the modern school experience. The history of the backpack can be traced to the great outdoors.  Innovations in hiking equipment and rucksacks contributed to the birth of the modern school backpack. This timeline highlights the contributions of Gerry Outdoors to the backpack like the use of nylon. The demand for backpacks in modern times gave birth to new products. JanSport began making backpacks in 1967. The product has changed over time. In the 1990s, headphone ports were added to backpack. The backpacks of the 2017 Back-to-School season come in a variety of colors and sizes with features for modern school tools like laptops.

What was your most prized school supply? What are your favorite memories of the start of the school year?  How will you mark the occasion this year?  No matter how you get started make plans to enjoy a history this school year.