“A Wholesome Drink”: The Disposable Paper Cup

by Ashley Giordano

2015-10-09 14.14.18 Figure 1

Cover from Individual Dixies Catalog No. 8, 1932. (Hugh Moore Dixie Cup Company Collection, Special Collections and College Archives, Skillman Library, Lafayette College.)

According to a 2010 report, over 58 billion paper cups ended up in landfills. Disposable cups are used in many places: fast food restaurants, doctors’ offices, office buildings, schools, and in the home. Invented in the early 1900s to take the place of the ‘deadly’ common drinking cup, by the mid-century disposable paper cups were universally adopted because of their efficient, convenient, time-saving, safe, and labor-saving qualities.

“Who Drank Before You? The Answer is ‘No One’ if you use BURT The Perfect Cup.” In the early years of the twentieth century, many Americans began to understand how infectious diseases were spread. Progressive public health reformers promoted and explained the germ theory of disease in popular print media. As a result the shared or “common” drinking cup, a feature of everyday life, came under attack. In the fight for sanitary drinking conditions, first individual drinking cups and then disposable drinking cups were used extensively on trains, in schools, and at soda fountains. Eventually, paper cup manufacturers and users began to realize that the disposable paper cup offered more advantages than just sanitation. Disposable cups saved time and money because they didn’t have to be washed, dried, or stacked. In restaurants and places of amusement, owners didn’t have to worry about customer theft or the dangers of breakage to both patrons and workers. To this day, fast food restaurants, dentist offices, theaters, museums, amusement parks, sports stadiums, and other sites employ paper cups for the multiplicity of benefits they offer. At the time, no one thought much about the cost of paper cups to the environment.

This project explores the history of the paper cup from the early 1900s and the days of finback drinking cups to the new eco-friendly, biodegradable options of the present. To navigate through the project click the tabs below or click on the icon to move to the next or previous page:

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                                                Dixie advertisement for Collier’s Magazine, May 14, 1932. (Hugh Moore Dixie Cup Company Collection, Special Collections and College Archives, Skillman Library, Lafayette College.)

II: “What Goes Into a Dixie Cup?”

III: “Beware the Common Drinking Cup”

IV: “Noxious Touch of Strangers Lips”

V: “A Dixie for Every Need”

VI: “No Soda Fountain Needs to be a ‘Germ Exchange’”

VII: “Bombs, Shells, Tanks, Planes, and Paper Cups and Containers”

VIII: “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”

IX: “It’s Not Easy Being Green”

X: Bibliography

To enlarge the images and view captions, click on the image.







Super cup mirror Figure 3a


Super cup mirror Figure 3b