A healthy cup of Dixie memorabilia in National Canal Museum exhibit
“Dixie: Easton’s Cup of Health and Happiness,” through Oct. 2, National Canal Museum, Easton, is an exhibition of vintage paper cups, advertisements and ephemera that tells the remarkable story of how marketing genius Hugh Moore replaced germ-ridden communal tin dippers with innovative healthy disposable paper drinking cups.
“It seems like it’s a frivolous thing, a little disposable cup,” says Elissa M. Garofalo, President-Executive Director, Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, Inc., which runs the Canal Museum. “But, when you think about a hundred years or so ago, and the health issues with shared cups and the disease that came out of that.”
The demand for paper cups was popularized by Lafayette College biology professor Alvin Davison’s article, “Death in School Drinking Cups,” based on a study he made of shared drinking cups collected from Easton public schools, and published in 1908 in Technical World Magazine.
He found “tuberculosis and other awful stuff,” says Garofalo.
Davison’s article was redistributed in 1909 by the Massachusetts State Board of Health. Kansas was the first state to abolish the common drinking cup, the tin dipper, in public places, as well as common glasses at water coolers, also in 1909.
Railroads, including the Lackawanna Railroad in 1909, were among the first to use paper cups. As part of his campaign against the tin dipper, Hugh Moore spoke at the Pure Food Show in Madison Square, New York City.
“Hugh Moore did not invent the cup,” says Martha Capwell Fox, National Canal Museum & Archives Coordinator. ”It was actually his brother-in-law, who was a lawyer in Boston. He had clients who were in the health field and they were looking for something that they could collect samples from patients, like TB patients, basically, and not need to sanitize the container, so they could just throw it away once it was analyzed.”
Atty. Lawrence Luellen is credited with developing the disposable paper cup in 1907. Luellen and Atty. Austin M. Pinkham shared an office along State Street in Boston, Mass. Pinkham knew of investors who wanted to manufacture paper drinking cups for ice-cooled vending machine-water coolers. In 1908, Luellen developed a porcelain water cooler with nested paper cups. Customers paid a penny a cup.
Hugh Moore, a Harvard University dropout, who Luellen hired to market his new product, was an entrepreneur whose business acumen turned the enterprise into a legendary success.
Luellen organized the American Water Supply Co. of New York with Moore as secretary and treasurer, and the American Water Supply Co. of New Jersey with Moore as the director.
In 1909, Moore and Luellen formed the Public Cup Vendor Co. in New York. Moore was named treasurer and general manager. Machines were leased to railroads and railroad stations. Cups were sold in bulk. Paper cups were also used in hospitals.
By 1912, Individual Drinking Cup Co., the firm’s new name, manufactured its paper cup, called the Health Kup. By 1916, more than 100 railroads in the U.S. sold the product. The company expanded its market to drug stores and soda fountains. The post-World War I flu pandemic further increased demand for paper cups.
The Health Kup name was changed to the Dixie Cup in 1919, when Moore was granted permission by doll-maker Alfred Schindler to borrow the name from Schindler’s Dixie Doll Co., which shared manufacturing space with the cup company in New York City.
The Individual Drinking Cup Co. relocated to Wilson Borough in 1923. It also began manufacturing and marketing 2½-ounce cups that held individual servings of ice cream called Ice Cream Dixies. Starting in 1928, the firm marketed its products on the “Dixies’ Circus” radio show.
The Ice-Cream Dixies lids, illustrated on the underside of the lid (1930-1954) with images of characters from the radio show, then later with pictures of movie stars, famous athletes, presidents and United States military vehicles, were collected by children. Many of the collectible lids, as well as “Dixies’ Circus” radio show memorabilia, are in the Canal Museum exhibition.
“Safe … from the Noxious Touch of Strangers’ Lips” proudly declares the advertisement hanging over the Dixie Cup soda fountain display.
Items curated for the exhibit are from the Canal Museum’s archives and the Hugh Moore Dixie Cup Collection at the Skillman Library of Lafayette College.
After merging with Chicago-based Vortex Cup Co., which manufactured disposable cone-shaped cups, the consolidated businesses became the Dixie-Vortex Co. in 1923.
Renamed the Dixie Cup Co. in 1943, the firm developed a portable water tank-cup dispenser for the armed forces and Red Cross. The device also provided water for thirsty factory workers.
“It Took 10 Years to develop this Beer Cup!” reads a full-page ad depicting a black and white photo of hands pouring beer from a bottle into a Dixie Cup. Adjacent to it is a large mirrored display case full of Dixie’s line of beer cups. The first cup held 5 ounces. By 1950, there were larger Brew Master Dixies.
Moore stepped down as director when Dixie merged with American Can Co. in 1957. The James River Corp. purchased American Can’s paper business in 1982. The Dixie Cup Co. is owned by Georgia-Pacific Corp., a subsidiary of Koch Industries.
Although the massive Northampton Street factory, with the iconic Dixie Cup water tower on its roof, was shut down in 1983, Dixie Cups are still manufactured at a facility in nearby Forks Township. And the name of Hugh Moore, who died in 1972, lives on in the park where the Canal Museum is located.
The exhibition, “Dixie: Easton’s Cup of Health and Happiness,” is supported by a grant from Georgia-Pacific Corp.
National Canal Museum, 2750 Hugh Moore Park Road, Easton. Gallery hours through Oct. 2: 11:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Wednesday - Sunday. Information: canals.org, 610-923-3548