The history of paper cups

paper cupNowadays, modern life is so busy that it’s often more efficient to grab a cup of coffee ‘to go’, served in a disposable, single use paper cup with a lid. These cups are so common now we don’t think about them, but they have a surprisingly long history.

Exactly when paper itself was invented isn’t known, but it was known to have been in use in imperial China in the second century BC. Paper cups followed soon afterwards, used for serving tea. They were made in different colours and sizes, and adorned with decorative designs just like modern-day paper cups.

These early paper cups weren’t capable of holding liquid for any length of time, and the paper cup as we know it today wasn’t developed until the 20th century. Shared water fountains and barrels in schools and public buildings generally had communal ladles or glasses, which became a matter of concern due to the health implications.

In 1908, the first commercial, disposable paper cup was invented in America. Called the ‘Dixie cup’, it was clean, hygienic and easily available, and quickly replaced the communal glasses and ladles.

As well as takeways, cafés and restaurants, many other industries use paper cups, sometimes for ease and sometimes for hygienic reasons. In some cases, the cost of a single use, disposable cup can be cheaper than the proper sterilisation and re-use of a glass or ceramic container.

Cups intended for hot drinks are made in a different way to those intended for water or cold drinks, and usually incorporate an insulated layer, both to keep the drink hot and to help protect the drinker’s fingers from heat.

When fitted with a lid, modern paper cups are a safe, easy options for taking your coffee with you, wherever you go.

To browse our wide range of paper cups, suitable for hot drinks such as coffee, please visit our paper cups section.