Back in the old days most families had a similar set up. Mom stayed at home and dad went into work. If you were a laborer or even an office worker, that meant taking a lunchbox or brown bag lunch with you. I can still remember my dad’s lunchbox, made of what seemed like steel and with a matching thermos. That thing saw him through many decades of use!

Beyond the routine of bringing your lunch, there was the ritual of saying goodbye to the family in the morning. Sometimes this didn’t go smoothly, but most days the wife and kids were smiling as they saw their breadwinner off to work. Things have changed these days and most families can no longer afford to live on only one salary. But, for many generations the dad leaving for work with the lunchbox was the norm. So, here are are some photos of breadwinners doing just that over the years.

Phillips refinery employee leaving for work
Original caption: “Phillips refinery. Borger, Texas. An employee leaving for work.” 1942. Via: John Vachon/Library of Congress

This guy has a cigarette holder! How fancy.

PA man leaving for work
Original caption: “John Koltias leaving for work. Aliquippa, Pennsylvania” 1938. Via: Library of Congress

That’s a generous lunchbox! And just look at her shoes and apron.

Clifford Shorts leaving for work, 1938
Original caption: “Clifford Shorts leaving for work. Aliquippa, Pennsylvania.” 1938. Via: Library of Congress

It looks just like he’s telling the kids to be good while he’s gone, doesn’t it?

Original caption: “Newport News, Virginia. Negro shipyard worker leaving his rural home for the shipyards with his lunch box.” 1942. Via: Pat Terry/Library of Congress
AL man leaves for work 1942
Original caption: “Sheffield, Alabama (Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Kenneth C. Hall leaves for work.” 1942. Via: Library of Congress

“Don’t forget your gun, honey!”

sheriff going to work
Original caption: “San Augustine, Texas. Sheriff Jim Halbert ready to leave for work in the morning.” 1943. Via: John Vachon/Library of Congress

During World War II it was the moms who had to go off to work while the husbands were away (or worse). Of course working women had existed for some time, but the war brought some of the troubles of working women to the foreground.

Original caption: “Washington, D.C. Mrs. Ella Watson, a government charwoman, leaves for work at 4:30 p.m.” 1942. Via: Gordon Parks/Library of Congress