INC. RECORDS, 1889-2003
(50 CUBIC FEET: 64 DB; 7 (.5) DB; 48 Flt B; 30 O/S Fldrs.)
By: Alison L. Oswald, December 2003
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
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.
Scope and Content
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. It 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; and Series 17: Audiovisual Materials, 1993-1996.
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 agreements. 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.
Series 1: Historical and Background Materials, 1919-1997
This series is divided into eight subseries: company profiles and histories, organizational materials, articles and books about Aladdin, newspaper clippings, and miscellaneous. The company profiles and histories are arranged chronologically and include handwritten notes, typed manuscripts, and published materials. The correspondence consists of Christmas cards from Aladdin for the years 1922 and 1964 and four letters from the Icy Hot Bottle Company, 1919-1922. The books in this series cover lamps, lunch boxes, and thermoses. There are collectors guides to lunch boxes with some copies autographed by the author. The miscellaneous materials include empty binders that are embossed with the company name and copies of the “Aladdin Creed” which states:
By the excellence of our products and services, we will continue
to earn the loyalty of all our customers. As individuals and as a
corporate citizen, we will set examples of responsibility in world-
wide communities. We will strive to provide our employees with
an opportunity for growth, self-fulfillment and career satisfaction.
We will faithfully meet our obligations to our stockholders by fully
discharging the trust they have always so confidently placed in us.
Series 2: Victor S. Johnson Sr. Files, 1916-1945
This series is divided into two small subseries: Burlington (Iowa) Soap Company, 1906-1908, and subject files, 1912-1983. The Iowa Soap Company materials include a notebook of accounts and commissions that Johnson maintained while working for the company. Founded in 1905, the Iowa Soap Company produced a full line of toilet and laundry soaps that were sold to grocery and drug stores. The subject files are arranged alphabetically and include a wide variety of topics concentrating on legal and patent matters. Of note are the J.M. Angeletti files, 1934-1940, which include small, paper lampshade designs. These designs are numbered 1-12 and are in pencil and ink. Also, the King (Dominion of Canada) vs. Weaver files, 1916-1918, consist of correspondence between W.H.F. Millar, attorney for the Mantle Lamp Company of America and N.K. LaFlamme, attorney for H.G. Weaver. H.G. Weaver, an employee at the Mantle Lamp Company resigned to start his own company. Before leaving the company he allegedly photocopied lists of customers, letters, paragraph books from the New York Office, form letters from the Montreal Office, lists of distributors in Quebec, printed circulars, and lists of advertisers. Additional correspondence, dealing with patenting and legal matters, is found in the Ralph H. Langley, files, 1936-1942. Langley, a consulting engineer who conducted patent research, for interference and reissue cases, reviewed new patent applications for Johnson Laboratories, Inc. Additionally, files on the Mantle Lamp Company of America, 1919-1927, deal with patent infringement, royalty checks, and other legal matters.
Series 3: Victor S. Johnson Jr. Files, 1906-1983
The largest series in the collection, it is divided into three subseries: biographical data, subject files, and files about Aladdin Divisions. The subject files are arranged alphabetically. The files cover a wide range of topics from the Atomic Energy Commission to research and development matters within the company to the King-Seeley Thermos case. The files include correspondence (both incoming and outgoing), product literature, internal memos, drawings, advertisements, financial data, company histories, and documentation on Aladdin’s subsidiaries, such as Aladdin Electronics and Aladdin Synergetics Inc. Overlap exists between Victor S. Johnson Jr. Files and other series. For example, company histories are found in Series 1: Historical and Background Materials, 1919-1997, but some of the same material is duplicated in Johnson’s files. Researchers should consult both as some items are annotated.
There are several subject files that are noteworthy. The William Adler Advertising Agency, 1947-1979, played a large role in promoting Aladdin and its products. Many of the promotional campaigns and other literature about Aladdin products can be found here. The Carl Bramming files document the head of research and development at Aladdin and provide insight into product development through the drawings found in the files. The King-Seeley Thermos case files, 1962-1980, highlight Aladdin’s involvement over the trademark use of the word thermos. In a 1963 court ruling, it was established that Aladdin and its customers use the word thermos in all lowercase, never use the word in solid capitals letters and can only have an initial capital letter if the rules of grammar require it. Additionally, the word thermos must be preceded by a possessive of the name Aladdin and in advertising it must clearly identify material as Aladdin.
The subseries dealing with Aladdin Divisions contains the Jack Imber’s files, 1932-1960, documenting the relationship between Johnson and his managing Director of Aladdin Industries Limited in England. The board of director’s files, 1950-1959, contain financial data, sales and inventories data, and product information.
Series 4: Employee and Personnel Records, 1910-2001
The Employee and Personnel Records are divided into nine subseries: time books, payroll records, employee handbooks, Aladdin Knights of the Mystic Light, United Steelworkers agreements, employee bulletins, programs, and miscellaneous.
There are three small, bound time books from 1910 and 1927. They contain employee’s names, department, and hours worked. The time books for 1927 include the rate at which the employee worked. The handbooks, 1947-1968 (not inclusive) were printed and published by Aladdin for Aladdin employees. They served as a “welcome’ to the company and provided useful information about holidays, vacations, benefits, promotions, hours of work, identification badges, absence, and health and safety. The benefit plans, 1947-1951, are small booklets that cover group, accident, sickness, hospital, and surgical issues. The payroll records consist of one bound volume, 1910-1937, and some loose materials, 1936-1940. The bound volume contains the names of employees, monthly pay, office expenses, general expenses, and salaries and commissions of branch offices for the Mantle Lamp Company. Bonuses and “other” income are also recorded. The records from 1936-1940 include dividend and bonus payments.
The Aladdin Knights of the Mystic Light, 1917-2001, began as an Aladdin employee group that held an annual banquet. Known as the Aladdin Knights, this group produced banquet programs that contain photographs, song lyrics, humorous drawings, lists of candidates initiated as “knights,” the banquet menu, and a “do you remember way back” page with historical facts about the company. The group later became less an internal Aladdin employee group and more an external collectors group. The group developed the first lamp collector’s manual in 1971, and the first Mystic Newsletter in 1973, to collect, preserve, and exchange information about Aladdin lamps and memorabilia. This group is still active today.
The United Steelworkers Agreements, 1946-2001 (not inclusive), are small booklets describing the contract between Aladdin Industries Inc. and the United Steelworkers of America A.F.L. C.I.O., which represented unionized Aladdin employees. The employee bulletins, 1920-1921, are typed notices from office manager A.H. Glantz dealing with issues such as attendance, rest periods for female employees, washroom breaks, and pest problems. There are a number of programs from the Management Conferences held by Aladdin and for its Annual Service Award Banquet. The programs contain the agenda for the meeting, lists of employees receiving service pins, and photographs of managers and service pin awardees. Other employee documentation includes the suggestion program developed to “improve efficiency, safety and profitability; utilize the talents of the employees; and to provide monetary reward for approved suggestions.” The miscellaneous file includes obituaries and updates on staffing changes and positions.
Series 5: Research and Development Records, 1910-1976
Research and Development Records are divided into four subseries: notebooks, meeting minutes, drawings for thermoses, and new product suggestions. The notebooks, 1927-1937, contain detailed notes, drawings, diagrams, tests, formulas, and calculations for a variety of research projects. The notebook from 1930-1931, deals with research on insulating substances; the Crossley notebook, 1935-1937, documents auto receivers and antennas. The notebooks appear to have been used in a laboratory setting and are dated. The meeting minutes, 1966-1969, are interoffice memos notifying members of the Research and Development Department of meetings and agenda items.
The drawings of thermoses, 1939-1951, are approximately 11” x 17” or smaller and depict the small and wide mouth plastic insulated bottle. There is a drawing for a plastic insulated flask, and one for an electrical adapter for a kerosene lamp. Some drawings are in color and are annotated. The new product suggestion files, 1950-1959, consist of correspondence from individuals offering new inventions or improvements for Aladdin products. Some of the correspondence contains drawings and full disclosure statements for the invention. Suggestions for vacuum bottles (#150001-#850045) include photographs. Responses from Aladdin are attached and stamped with a number from #01001 to #910010. The correspondence was given to the Sales and Production group to evaluate for manufacture and distribution worthiness.
Series 6: Patent Records, 1889-1973
The Patent Records are divided into six subseries: correspondence, trademark correspondence, agreements, patents—Aladdin, Aladdin Radio Patents, and patents—others. The patent correspondence, 1937-1963, is arranged alphabetically and deals with specific inventions and/or items such as portable stoves, thermal canteens, and vacuum bottles. The vacuum testing correspondence, 1952-1960, is research and development related. Aladdin sought assistance from a variety of companies to test its vacuum bottles. Many of the letters are to companies that could not assist Aladdin with its testing requests. Of note are the interim instructions for a vacuum bottle testing machine built for Aladdin by Vanderbilt University in 1955. The agreements, 1919-1966, were made with employees and contain names, date of agreement, name of company, and in some instances, agreements for the assignment of patents. Patents specifically dealing with Aladdin are arranged by product type while “other” non-Aladdin patents are arranged chronologically. The Aladdin Radio Patents, 1941-1954, are bound.
Series 7: Sales Records, 1939-2000
This series is divided into twelve subseries: sales manuals, magneboard, flip chart, salesmen memos, form letters to trade industry, promotional and product literature, promotional memos, price lists, sales studies, sales bulletins, licensing agreements, and sales data.
The Magneboard Shelf Management Planner, 1981, is a self-contained “plan-o-gram” for all Aladdin field salesmen. This planner was used for sales training in proper shelf space and merchandising techniques, and for presentations, especially with “key” accounts. The sales presentation flip chart, 1949, is approximately 14” x 20” and contains concise sales facts and messages about Aladdin products. The chart was designed for use on a table or counter top.
Memos for salesmen, 1966-1971, consist of price lists, promotional materials, jobber inserts, catalog sheets, test manuals, product specific information, and orders billed. The majority of the memos are from George Cole; some are from R.H. Mickelsen and Bill Bannister. Letters to trade industry, 1957-1963, are standard form letters from Aladdin to potential buyers discussing new products, promoting existing products, and announcing prices. Catalog pages and price lists were common attachments. The promotional and product literature, 1949-1992, includes printed product information attached to memos to sales personnel. The memos contain details such as reminders of sales promotions for various Aladdin products, current price lists, and instructions on taking orders, shipments, and national sales meetings. The memos found among the promotional and product literature should be used in conjunction with the salesmen memos.
The sales bulletins, 1968-1969, are interoffice memos aimed at salesmen, regional managers, and representatives for the purpose of communicating procedures, directives, and policies and to act as “ready reference.” The bulletins were intended to become a “permanent” file for everyone associated with the sales force. The Licensing Agreements, 1966-1971, includes correspondence, advance programming information, and agreements with various television shows and movies. This subseries is arranged alphabetically. The sales data, 1939-1996, consists of a variety of financial data. The major account totals, 1940-1983, detail account information with department stores like Sears, Gimble’s, Jordan-Marsh, and J.C. Penney and super markets, drug stores, catalog houses, variety chains, rack jobbers, automotive chains, and hardware jobbers. The unit shipments and sales data, 1950-1992, provides product categories with product title, unit change, annual forecasts, forecast errors, and shipments. The historical data, 1939-1992, was collected on various products and product lines. The financial data includes net sales figures, percentage changes, some memos to salesmen, consolidated narratives about product lines, strategic planning documents on “breakable and unbreakable” bottles, consumer research, reorganization memos, and reorganization charts for sales and marketing staff.
Series 8: Advertising and Marketing Records, 1931-2001
Divided into eight smaller subseries, the advertising and marketing records
consist of correspondence, business and strategic plans, market studies, press kits,
product literature, advertisements, packaging and labels, and miscellaneous. There interoffice correspondence and correspondence with
the Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI) whichprovided advertising for
products and supplies for various companies. The Advertising Specialty Register listed
companies and their products and trademarks. The ASI correspondence, 1962-1970, deals
with Aladdin products featured in ASI’s consolidated catalog service. These catalogs
were sold to business and gift distributors for re-distribution to sales representatives. Correspondence,
memos, invoices, contracts, and color transparencies and proof sheets of Aladdin products (--Porta
Pak by Aladdin, The Aladdin Outing Kit, Beverage Butler TM
Vacuum Pitcher--) for inclusion in the catalog, are found here. The business and strategic
plans, for 1976, 1982, and 1995, consist of documents developed by Aladdin’s Consumer Product’s
Division and specifically address marketing issues. The marketing studies, 1970-1986, deal
with television viewer
The packaging and labels, 1951-1997, include early designs done in ink and pencil on tracing paper as well as copies from 1952-1954. Labels for Aladdin’s vacuum bottle and some private brands such as the Cape Cod vacuum bottle and Diamond Brand vacuum bottle also are included. These labels are in color. The school lunch box labels, 1983-1997, depict characters and television programs such as American Gladiator, Urkel, Disney, the Jetson’s princess of Power, Snoopy, Coca-Cola, Food Fighters, GI-Joe, Jem and Tom & Jerry. These labels are approximately 5” x 7” and in color. The product literature, 1937-2001, consists of printed materials describing, and announcing various Aladdin products. Most of the literature was printed on 8” x 10” sheets in color. Some price information is available. These materials are arranged chronologically.
Series 9: School Lunch Kits, 1952-1989
These materials are arranged into six subseries: historical background, product literature, consumer studies, advertisements, original artwork and body artwork. The historical materials, 1950-1986, provide background information on the names of the decorated kits and when they were introduced. Various inventories document the type of kit (flat steel, flat plastic, dome steel, dome plastic, soft vinyl, and barrel bags) and provide the jobber price, and dealer price. The product literature, 1951-1993, consists of printed materials describing, and announcing school lunch kits. Some price information is available. These materials are arranged chronologically. The consumer studies conducted between 1980 and 1989 deal with school lunch kit preferences. The studies were conducted by National Data Network and Richard J. Wass & Associates to determine the reaction of the target audience, measure opinions of the target audience, and determine the likes of the audience regarding character decorations. The school lunch kit advertising consists of oversize advertisements (20”x 24”) placed in newspapers and magazines announcing forthcoming lunch kits. These ads include character-decorated kits for Gunsmoke, Dura Clad, Flintstones, Huckleberry Hound, Gigi, Paladin, Disneyland, Space Cadet, Chuck Wagon, Duchess, Plaid, Zorro, and Steve Canyon. The original artwork, 1952-1989, consists of art for all aspects of the lunch kit. Some of the art was done by Robert O. Burton (1950-1960), Elmer Lehnhardt (1960-1985), Beverly Burge (1976-1989), and Don Hosse (1983-1990s). The artwork is pencil, colored pencil, ink, and paint on presentation boards. The artwork varies in size with the largest pieces being 10” x 48”. The artwork is arranged alphabetically.
Series 10: Lamps and Kerosene Heaters, 1911-2000
This series contains histories, a year-end report, catalogs, price lists, product literature, printed materials, photographs, and newspaper clippings documenting lamps and kerosene heaters produced by Aladdin. Of note are two draft photocopies of Aladdin—Magic Name in Lamps, 1996, by Bill Courter. This draft provides a history of the Aladdin mantle lamp.
Series 11: Temp-Rite, 1972-2000
Temp-Rite is was a product of Aladdin Synergetics Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Aladdin Industry. Developed by John Bridges of Aladdin in May 1966, the in-flight thermal tray service was designed around dishware. Aladdin Synergetics Inc. provided food service products and systems to healthcare institutions that consist primarily of trays with insulated compartments that maintain food temperatures. The series contains historical background on in flight service, product literature, manuals, and the newsletter Interaction published by Aladdin Synergetics Inc.
Series 12: Competitors, 1963-2001
This series contains two file folders of product literature and articles on Aladdin’s competitors, including Thermos®, Kero-sun™, Kaiser Aluminum, Scent-ment Lamps and Lanterns, and White Flame Light Company.
Series 13: Style Guides, 1966-1998
Arranged alphabetically, the style guides provided Aladdin staff with guidelines and assistance in developing merchandise pursuant to applicable licensing agreements.
Series 14: Newsletters, 1943-1998
The newsletters are arranged alphabetically and represent Aladdin’s in-house organs as well as external publications by some of its divisions. The A-ladd-in SerVice was published to keep employees in military service informed about company activities. Printed from July, 1943, to October, 1945, the newsletter documents Aladdin history, its employees, and their families. A special 1985 reprint of A-ladd-in SerVice, 1943-1945, provides an index to articles and photographs documenting Aladdin history and memorabilia. The Aladdinews, 1947-1994, is the largest run of newsletters produced by and for Aladdin employees.
Series 15: Photographs, 1923-1986
The photographs are divided into seven subseries: buildings and plants, displays and shows, employees, company events, school lunch kits, the Mantle Lamp Company of America, and general images. The images are predominately black and white,
8” x 10” prints. There are some negatives and a few framed photographs. There is some water damage scattered throughout the series and some photographs are stuck together.
Many company activities are well documented, for example the Tennessee State Fair of 1949 and 1950. In conjunction with WMAC Radio, Aladdin had a booth at the fair. During five, fifteen-minute programs, announcer Jim Williams interviewed visitors to the fair who gathered around the booth. The interview questions and answers were typed on 3 x 5 index cards included with the photographs. Prizes were given daily to visitors who answered the simple questions correctly. Additionally, Aladdin had thirty-second commercial spots on the radio to advertise various Aladdin products. Company officials—including Victors S. Johnson Jr.—spoke daily for approximately two minutes. Modern Materials Handling published a series of articles on “handling at the work place” in 1959 featuring Aladdin. The photographs used in the article, along with captions and some correspondence, are included. Other areas well documented include factory scenes--particularly assembly line work, company events such as picnics, banquets and other celebrations and products such as school lunch kits and thermoses.
Series 16: Scrapbooks, 1908-1962
Most of the scrapbooks are compilations of ads or newspaper clippings about Aladdin products. Of note is Carl Bramming’s Retirement Scrapbook, 1948-1962, documenting his contributions to Aladdin and the 1962 party marking his retirement. Bramming served as Vice President of Research and Development and was responsible for the design of vacuum ware machinery and equipment. His scrapbook contains photographs, letters, sketches, drawings, and postcards from fellow employees congratulating him on his successful career and retirement.
Series 17: Audiovisual Materials, 1993-1996
There are three ½” vhs tapes documenting the “Aladdin Story,” and its products Tempserv, a versatile foam insulated server and bowls, and the Stanley thermos.
The collection was donated to the Archives Center, National Museum of American History by Lillian B. Jenkins, Vice President of Human Resources at Aladdin Industries, inc. on June 24, 2003.
The Division of Cultural History, National Museum of American History, holds 30 lunch boxes and 28 thermos bottles from Aladdin Industries, Inc. Nashville, Tennessee. Additionally, there is a pair of lamps (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.