Photo: Lunchbox Photo: Lunchbox

The year was 1956, and Leo May was fed up with having to choose between sitting on a boulder or the cold, damp floor of the nickel mine where he worked in Sudbury, Ont. So he designed a lunch box that could double as a seat.

Made of steel-riveted aluminum brushed with Sudbury nickel, it was larger and sturdier than the then-common tin variety. And that’s how the L. May Mfg. Miners Lunchbox came to be.

May is said to have sold over a million units in his lifetime just by word of mouth. Today, May’s daughter, Catherine Langin, runs the family business. Sixty years on, the design is essentially unchanged—other than the fact that the boxes are now available in a range of designer colours, including special limited-edition paint jobs (rocker Randy Bachman ordered one with a custom Union Jack design).

“Why change anything?” asks Langin. The lunch box’s distinctive shape can still be spotted today under the arms of miners on every continent. They prize its tough practicality; white-collar urbanites buy it for the authentically rugged vibe. Says Langin: “I’ve heard someone once say it looks futuristic and retro at the same time.”

This article is from the “Why Design Matters” special report in the April 2016 issue of Canadian Business. Click here for more!

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