There are some things we see every day, to the point where they’ve become invisible. For example, the humble cup holder in your car. Sure, it doesn’t do anything beyond its one designated purpose, it doesn’t play your iPod or update your Facebook status for you. But it’s the reason you’re not soaked in Mountain Dew breakfast drink on your way to work, so you should take a moment to thank it for not having to explaining that stain to your boss.
BonAppetit.com took a nice long look at the cup holder’s past to honor it for all those years of service. And while a car today without cup holders would be seen as a serious biff on the part of the designer, it’s only been somewhat recently that those gripping handles, plastic wells and ridged holders have become ubiquitous.
Back in the Model T days, customers could buy all kinds of gadgets to add on to their cars — including an entire kitchenette straped onto the running boards, or a nice little flower vase on the dashboard.
But we didn’t really need cup holders until the 1950s when fast food became the cool thing to do. Eating in your car is convenient but messy if you have nowhere to place your drink. Various patents showed up for snack trays that could hang from the dashboard, including the precursor to the modern slide out cup holder, the “Refreshment Tray for Automobile Instrument Panel.”
The 1960s saw trays that hooked into window wells, but still there wasn’t a common solution until the 1983 invention of the minivan by Chrysler. Both the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager were pioneers in the American car market (and in turn created the phenomenon known as a “soccer mom”), and back then, featured two cup holders sunk into the plastic dashboard of the vans.
More and more cars started having them, but it wouldn’t be until at least the 1990s when they were everywhere. As Bon Appetit points out, in 1989, US News and World Report was still calling “crannies for drinking cups” an unnecessary “future frill.”
Just because they come standard now doesn’t mean you should take those humble holders for granted. They’re the difference between a lap full of hot McDonald’s coffee and an incident-free, dry car experience.
Our Cup Runneth Over: A History of the Car Cup Holder [Bon Appetit]