school lunch program since the 1940s.
We used to drink a lot of it in elementary school in Lorain while I was growing up. The packaging – namely, those uniquely square cartons with the lid that you had to bend back to get a straw into – left quite an impression on me. Why? Because some of them had cartoons on them.
The photo above (courtesy of Todd Franklin’s fantastic neatocoolville flickr collection) shows one of those boxes.
Although this carton has Steve Canyon on it, the one I remember the most was the one with my favorite comic strip character: Al Capp's Lil’ Abner.
Decades after I last saw one of the boxes, I still remembered the panel with Li’l Abner. He was shown on one side of the panel, happily heading off to work carrying a lunch box. On the other side of the panel was a drawing of Joe Btfsplk, the unlucky Dogpatch character with the perpetual dark cloud over him. The headline was something like: "Which Will Be You? The guy with the high school diploma and a job? Or Joe Btfsplk?”
For years, I have been trying to find a picture of the Li’l Abner carton online. I was unsuccessful in my quest, until I located the whole series of cartoon panels on the timepassagesnostalgia website.
Here is the Li’l Abner panel. I was pretty darn close to remembering it word for word.
Joe Palooka the prizefighter was included in this series. Why? Because Al Capp used to help Ham Fisher with the Joe Palooka strip as a ghost artist. When Capp left the strip to start Li’l Abner and enjoyed widespread success and popularity, a bitter and nasty feud was the result.)
Special thanks to Ron Toth and his Time Passages Nostalgia Company for use of these images. Check out his website (here) featuring these and other series of milk carton graphics, including U. S. Presidents, States, Dates in Space and Great Moments in American History. Some of these vintage carton panels are still for sale, and who knows? – they may be the only remaining sample of these still in existence!