VIII: “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” – Paper Cups, Bottle Showers, and Ballgames

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Joe DiMaggio (center) and Craig Moore (right) vice president of Dixie Cup Division of American Can Company at the National Paper Trade Association Convention in New York, 1956. (Hugh Moore Dixie Cup Company Collection, Special Collections and College Archives, Skillman Library, Lafayette College.)

After World War II ended, postwar prosperity resulted in an expanded consumer market for many kinds of goods and commercial entertainments. This “convergence of working-class and middle-class financial capabilities” was not lost on manufacturers or business owners. Attendance at sporting events was one way that new disposable income was spent – and professional ball games presented a unique problem that could only be solved by introducing paper cups.

A 1946 New York Times article reported that a Texas League ballpark was “faced with a beer problem.” Beer bottles were being used as weapons by patrons to show their disdain for a call, player, or for the opposing team. These “bottle showers” were becoming so dangerous that the President of the Texas League, J. Alvin Gardner, decided the park should start selling beer in paper cups. But this didn’t only happen in Texas or in the minor leagues. In 1953 a similar decision was made after a bottle-throwing episode during a “near riot” between the Browns and the Yankees in St. Louis.

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Harry Truman (holding a Dixie Cup) at the ballgame between the St. Louis Browns and the Washington Nationals, 1946. (Hugh Moore Dixie Cup Company Collection, Special Collections and College Archives, Skillman Library, Lafayette College.)

Nor were glass beer bottles the only dangers that business owners were trying to avoid by making the switch to paper cups. At wrestling arenas, amusement parks, and bowling alleys, soda and other beverages were increasingly poured out of glass bottles and into safer paper cups by vendors, as shown in the advertisement below. While this switch was also made for reasons of convenience and efficiency, patron and staff safety also played a role in the change. In 1956, a patron sued the owner of an arena in California after she was hit by a Coca Cola bottle during a public wrestling match. Although the drinks were supposed to be poured out of the bottles and into paper cups by the drink vendor, an incensed patron somehow obtained a glass bottle. Although the owner was never charged with negligence, the case does demonstrate how business owners turned to paper cups to solve the problem of safety at public events.

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Dixie advertisement for Coca-Cola Bottler, 1951. (Hugh Moore Dixie Cup Company Collection, Special Collections and College Archives, Skillman Library, Lafayette College.)

While places of amusement were switching to serving beer and soda in paper cups, paper cup manufacturers were testing paper cups designed to hold beer. According to J. Alvin Gardner, President of the Texas Baseball League, beer was being consumed in unprecedented amounts at ball fields. One Dixie Cup Company advertisement reported that “Beer has become such a popular American refreshment that people expect it to be available everywhere.” Restaurant, ballpark, and bar owners began to toy with the idea of serving their beer in paper cups. Realizing that standard paper cups might not preserve the true flavor of beer, companies began to develop special cups. Waxed paper cups big enough to hold an entire bottle had the “honor” of being an ideal container to drink beer from according to a 1954 article in Reading Eagle. Research in independent laboratories determined that beer stayed cooler longer in waxed cups, held foam longer, and probably tasted better than in other glasses which may be “slightly soiled with vegetable oil or detergent” although it also lost carbon dioxide faster than beer glass.

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Dixie advertisement for unknown publication, 1933. (Hugh Moore Dixie Cup Company Collection, Special Collections and College Archives, Skillman Library, Lafayette College.)

Bars throughout the country tested serving beer in these specialty paper cups. One test took place in four bars in Hackensack, New Jersey in 1951. The test was requested by a Health Officer named Frank A. DeWitt. DeWitt guaranteed that patrons would not notice a difference in the taste and would be happy with the increased sanitation that beer paper cups offered. Although the result of this particular beer cup test is unknown, The New York Times reported that paper cups were being used in bars in Washington, Florida, and Texas with mild success. So if serving beer in paper cups was more convenient, sanitary, safe, and efficient than serving it in glasses why didn’t beer being served in paper cups become a standard? Multiple factors influenced the specialty beer paper cup failure. Some patrons insisted that paper cups distorted beer’s taste. Beer was also not consumed in quick-service or take-out environments as soda was. A final factor can be seen in the eventual invention of plastic disposable cups for beer and their eventual dominance in the disposable alcohol vessel market in the 1960s.

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