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The Origin of the Red Party Cup

How did a plastic, red cup become synonymous with a party and everything that comes with it? It’s the only plastic cup with its own song, and its been assisting party goers for over four decades. Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about this party staple.

The Solo Cup Company is the brand behind the cup, and they started innocently enough in the 1940’s making cone shaped cups to hold soft drinks at drive-in movie theaters. In the 60’s, the company came out with the Cozy Cup, a plastic teacup that held a cone-shaped cup of coffee. The first Solo cup was launched in the 1970’s and held the same shape until a redesign in 2004 and 2009. The 2004 design added grips to the cup, and the 2009 design introduced a square bottom for increased strength and kept the grips on the side of the cup, supposedly to make it easier to hold.

The history on how the cup became a symbol and a must-have for parties remains relatively unknown. It was a stiffer cup than the competitors and lent itself well to being able to hold a quantity of beverage slightly over other cup’s sixteen ounces, but its not known who started the trend. And why red? No one really knows that either, but the Solo company says that 60% of their party cup sales are from the red cup, with the blue cup coming in a distant second. Many have pondered why the color red has become so popular, and have even tried to give a psychological explanation behind the color’s popularity.

One of the biggest myths that has spread about the red cup’s use was the distinctive lines on the versions before 2004. These were touted as lines that measured out exact quantities of certain beverages. The line at the bottom was for one ounce of liquor, the second line up was for five ounces of wine, and the third line up was for twelve ounces of beer. Seems like a good idea and a great marketing tool, but unfortunately, they weren’t intended for measurements.

The Dart Container Company, which acquired Solo in 2012, put the question to rest, and said the lines were never intended for measurements and are simply for functional performance. While the measurements are close, and the liquor and wine measurements were about right, the beer measurement was a bit low (see video below). Dart says the measurement lines are purely coincidental, but it’s probably a safe bet that hasn’t stopped people from using them for that.

The red party cup craze hasn’t stopped, and other companies now offer a similar version in all shapes and sizes. Some look like wine glasses, others look like coffee mugs and shot glasses. Each is red with the distinctive lines wrapped around them. Even though Solo redesigned the cup, it hasn’t stopped others from profiting on its iconic shape and color. The cup even has its own song by country music artist, Toby Keith, simply entitled, “Red Solo Cup”, which pretty much explains what the red party cup is used for the vast majority of the time.

Want to read more stories like this? Check out Knowledge Stew: The Guide to the Most Interesting Facts in the World, Volume 1.