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A History of the Car Cup Holder


“Cup Holder” (Credit: US Patent  2628054)

Ever since George Washington crossed the Delaware  to go sign the lease on his new pickup truck (with 0 percent APR!), President’s  Day has been associated with getting a good deal on a car. And while some people  buy cars based on gas mileage or sporty looks, we all know that the most  important parts of a vehicle are its cup holders.

They need to be plentiful, sturdy, and capable of holding any beverage ever  created by man, preferably with those little spring-loaded gripper arms to keep  your coffee or Big Gulp safe from pothole jostles. Cup holders aren’t just  essential for our constant hydration, they’re also the source of our  psychological well-being on the road: Clotaire Rapaille, a cultural  anthropologist, has theorized  that having warm liquid close by in the car brings our subconscious back to the  safety of early childhood, and the food-love of our mother’s milk.
But cars weren’t always such happy places. In the dark  days of early automotion, designers presumed that drivers would actually stop  driving to eat or drink something, so cup holders had no place in interiors.  From the get-go, though, aftermarket innovators sought to connect mobile  Americans with food. If you were a Model T owner back in the ’20s, you were  expected to modify your jalopy with as many doodads as you could afford to order  from the Sears catalog, whose Ford gadget section, as  E.B. White described it, “was larger than men’s clothing, almost as  large as household furnishings.” You could add a flower vase to your dashboard,  transform your car from a convertible to a hardtop, fiddle infinitely with the  inner workings of your engine–and strap an  entire kitchenette to the running boards, complete with a fold-out  table and labeled compartments for flour meal, eggs, and ice water.
Real demand for the cup holder didn’t pick up  until the 1950s, when drive-ins and drive-thru windows became mainstays of  American eating. The very earliest evidence of complete cup-holding comes from a  1950 newspaper clipping that describes a “snack tray for car” that “hangs from  dashboard.” The cups were held by metal discs hanging on chains from the tray,  and seem to actually be fairly secure.
A few other ideas were floating around, too. Some were bad, like the Automobile  Seat Article Holder, patented in 1953, which trusted a hinged plate wedged  between the seat cushions to keep your drinks from sloshing around, but one  Clyde W. Morgan of Dallas patented a precursor of the modern slide-out cup  holder, the Refreshment  Tray for Automobile Instrument Panel, which included two wells for  beverages.While inventors tried to fill the cup holder void,  manufacturers started including proto-cup holders on the back of glove  compartment doors (the earliest documented model with these is a 1955 Chevy).  They weren’t anything more than little indentations in the plastic, unsafe for  sipping at any speed, but they were a step in the right direction.

The best beverage security system of the era, though, belonged to the 1957  Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. Plenty of ultra-luxurious limousines had had  built-in bars, but the Brougham was the first to come with a magnetized glove  compartment door and a set of four metal tumblers, perfect for keeping your  cognac stable while you’re passing the jitney on the way to the  Hamptons.

In the ’60s, trays that would hook into the window well of the  door became available, and were fairly commonplace as aftermarket accessories by  the ’70s. Patents from the time exist for a more  advanced version of Clyde W. Morgan’s pull-out tray, but customers looking  for a car with a built-in cup holder were still stuck in the wilderness, or more  likely in traffic, trying to turn left and shift into second while balancing  their hot mugs of Sanka.

But that all changed in 1983, when Chrysler invented the minivan. The Dodge  Caravan and Plymouth Voyager (which were the same car, for the most part) not  only saved the company while creating a whole new category of car in the  American market, they rolled off the assembly line with two serious cup holders  in sunk into the plastic of the dashboard. In the next few years, more and more  cars started including cup holders in their interior design–but it would take  at least another decade for them to become ubiquitous.In 1989, US  News and World Report was still  calling “crannies for drinking cups” an unnecessary “future frill,” but the  life-or-death necessity of the cup holder was proven in the infamous 1994  lawsuit, Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants. If you’re too young to remember the  hot coffee case (or happened to spend that year renting a nice cave in the  Poconos), Stella Liebeck, a 79-year-old woman, sued McDonald’s for damages after  spilling 180-degree coffee on her lap in a stationary car. She got third-degree  burns from the spill, and was awarded $2.7 million (reduced to $640,000 on  appeal) by the jury. The case became fodder for endless Leno monologues and a  national argument about tort reform, but it was also a strong argument for  industry-wide adoption of the cup holder–if the car she’d been sitting in, her  grandson’s Ford Probe, had had even one single cup holder, the whole ordeal  might have been avoided.

Read More http://www.bonappetit.com/blogsandforums/blogs/badaily/2013/02/cup-holders-cars-history.html#ixzz2SccPpxie

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