Category: community drinking cup

yesterdaysprint: Star-Gazette, Elmira, New York, March 7,…


Star-Gazette, Elmira, New York, March 7, 1913

Number 11, “Shun the public drinking cups”, was a real issue. You’d find them chained to

pumps out in school yards or to drinking fountains, faucets, or near basins in parks, factories, theaters, department stores, offices, boats, trains, and railway stations – everywhere you went; one cup for everybody to use.

In fancier places, like a nice theater, a glass cup might be passed around and shared, but in most places the cups were made of cheap tin and there’s a good chance you’d find it dirty and rusting. 

By 1910 germ theory and the necessity for proper sanitation had taken a firm hold in the public mind and many cities (and states) were banning community drinking cups and beginning to install water fountains that permitted a strong enough stream that a community cup was no longer necessary.

When those streaming fountains weren’t available you’d be expected to pay 1 to 15 cents (that’s about 25 cents to almost $4 adjusted for inflation) for a paper cup or you’d need to bring your own cup with you. Eventually the prices became regulated in most places, making a 1 cent charge the norm.

Paper boys made big sales when these laws first came into effect, buying paper cups to sell along with their papers at increased prices until vending machines that sold the cups for a penny each came along shortly after. 

Some thrifty people or those too poor to afford to buy a cup would use a piece of newspaper and twist it into a cone to take their drink.  If you happened to have an orange or a grapefruit handy, you could also use the hollowed out peel as a cup.

Folding cups made from nickel or aluminum in pretty leather cases were sold for this purpose and were popular gifts for school children and men who traveled extensively for work (they were also useful for picnics).

The St. Louis Star and Times, Missouri, December 17, 1922


(source: etsy)

Some railway companies used the public fear as a sales tactic. Those who weren’t so convinced by germ theory wondered how much the railway companies had a hand in the push for the abolition of the public cup. For the same 15 cents you’d pay for your paper cup on the train, you could purchase a glass of whiskey, beer or lemonade at the buffet, where the food might tempt you as well.

Don’t drink that dirty common water, come in and buy an ice cream soda instead!

The Manhattan Republic, Kansas, March 30, 1911


Aside from the gross bacteria that flourished in these cups, there were other troubles that accompanied their use…

Boston Post, Massachusetts, August 11, 1901