V: “A Dixie for Every Need” – The Diffusion of the Paper Cup

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Lily cups advertisement, around 1920. (Competitive company advertisement. Competitive company product sample. Hugh Moore Dixie Cup Company Collection, Special Collections and College Archives, Skillman Library, Lafayette College.)

Along with railroads jumping on the disposable cup bandwagon, schools, hospitals, office buildings, and department stores began replacing common drinking cups with individual paper drinking cups.

Although some schools taught their children how to fold their own cups (directions for folding a paper drinking cup can be seen below) or asked them to bring in cups, many began using paper cups at their water fountains and in their lunch rooms. Attacking public drinking cups in schools, doctors and scientists presented results of the bacteria found upon cups used by students. One such study was discussed in The Technical World Magazine’s 1908 article “Death in School Drinking Cups.” Following the ban on public drinking cups, guidelines for school health inspections began to include making sure that the proper drinking cups were provided for children.

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Leigh Valley Railroad instruction pamphlet, undated. (Hugh Moore Dixie Cup Company Collection, Special Collections and College Archives, Skillman Library, Lafayette College.)

Along with schools, hospitals and doctors’ offices began using paper cups for reasons both of sanitation and convenience. Paper cups were first used to save patients and visitors from spreading or catching diseases. By 1948, however, a Dixie Cup advertisement promoted paper cups as a time and labor saver. The advertisement claimed that “You’ll save everybody’s time when you use always-clean, ready-to-use Dixie Cups” for water, medicine, and juice. Hospitals, dentists, and doctors saw replacing glass cups with their paper counterparts as a way to increase both the overall sanitation of the buildings and their overall efficiency as it was more convenient and faster to open a new pack of paper cups than to wash and sterilize each glass after every use.

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Dixie advertisement for Modern Hospital, 1951. (Hugh Moore Dixie Cup Company Collection, Special Collections and College Archives, Skillman Library, Lafayette College.)

By the1910s disposable paper cups also began to appear in theaters, public buildings, offices, and department stores across the country. Advertisements by Dixie Cup Company demonstrated the various places that disposable cups could be used. This series of advertisements, two of which can be viewed below, presented the common trop of the increased sanitation that paper cups could bring to various venues. A Health Kups brochure from the 1910s also lists some of ‘representative users’ of the Individual Drinking Cups. These users include department stores such as John Wanamaker and R.H. Macy & Co.; theatres including Carnegie Lyceum and the Boston Opera House; public buildings such as the Capitol of Michigan; and business and banking institutions such as the Treasury Department in Washington D.C., Western Union Telephone Company, and Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.

Disposable paper cups, companies stated, could also be used in factories by workers who need to take drink breaks or by housewives packing their husbands’ lunches for work. Instead of workers using an “old-fashioned saliva exchange” when thirsty while working, they could use paper cups and dispensers that guarantee sanitation on the job. The circular below is just one example of the images used to demonstrate the “guaranteed” sanitation provided by water coolers and the paper cups that accompanied them on the job site.

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Dixie Cup Company circular, around 1940. (Hugh Moore Dixie Cup Company Collection, Special Collections and College Archives, Skillman Library, Lafayette College.)

Incorporating disposable individual cups into offices, department stores, and theaters also reflected efforts to save time and “real money.” Cup companies presented paper cups as attractive alternatives by pointing out that they would not have to scraped, rinsed, dried, or put away. Along with saving labor, disposable cups were also marketed as a means to save money on water or electricity from running dishwashing equipment. Advertisements, like the one below, presented the money and time saving qualities of paper cups to businesses through magazines, mailers, and industry periodicals.

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Dixie advertisement for Modern Hospital and American Restaurant, 1948. (Hugh Moore Dixie Cup Company Collection, Special Collections and College Archives, Skillman Library, Lafayette College.)

Even cups used in communion at churches were not safe from the campaign against “promiscuous germs” associated with sharing cups. By 1922 sanitarians began to endorse individual chalices calling communion cups a “menace.” Although many church officials switched to the individual or disposable cups others “put a premium on faith as the controlling agent in physical phenomena [and felt] that they cannot suffer harm while participating in the Holy Sacrament.” They continued to use the shared cup.

Despite this pocket of resistance, paper cup manufacturers seemed to feel there was no limit on what paper cups could be used for. Paper cups, along with their accessories began to come in more colors, patterns, and styles in order to please the various users of these sanitary, efficient, and convenient products.

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Revised Adam Period Design, 1931. (Hugh Moore Dixie Cup Company Collection, Special Collections and College Archives, Skillman Library, Lafayette College.)

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