Last month, Robert Hulseman, the inventor of the Red Solo Cup, that picnic and party staple, died at the age of 84.
Hulseman’s son Paul told the Associated Press that his father, a man dedicated to his work, his wife and 10 children, and his Catholic faith, had no idea the beverage cup he invented for family picnics had become a tailgate and keg-party icon and didn’t quite know what to make of Toby Keith’s cheeky country-music homage to his creation, “Red Solo Cup.” (Keith tweeted his condolences to Hulseman.)
He “never fully understood how massively popular the large red plastic cup became in pop culture,” Paul Hulseman told the AP.
It turns out that sentiment is mutual. There’s a lot the culture at large probably didn’t understand about the Red Solo Cup (which the Washington Post has hailed as a “marvel of modern engineering”) and the man who invented it. Here are six things to know:
1. Hulseman, who began working to produce disposable cups, plates and bowls with his father (who invented the cone-shaped paper Solo Cup) in 1936, introduced the red Solo Cup in the 1970s.
2. He originally made the cup in 5-, 7- and 9-ounce sizes, for use in the kitchen and at family picnics. The keg-friendly 16-ounce plastic Solo Cup came later. “Nobody was drinking 16-ounce beers at that point,” his son Tom told the Chicago Tribune.
3. Hulseman’s kids helped him pick the colors for the original Solo Cups. They opted for red, blue, yellow and peach — but the peach one didn’t stand the test of time.
4. Red was not Hulseman’s favorite Solo Cup color. “Truth be told,” Paul told the Associated Press, “Dad liked blue the best.”
5. Hulseman also helped to invent the little plastic cups you get ketchup and sauces in when you go to restaurants and, in collaboration with Jack Clements, the Solo Traveler coffee cup lid. “The Traveler lid was on the top of every Starbucks cup,” Paul Hulseman told the Tribune. “You probably looked past it every day.”
6. The Traveler lid is included in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which describes its iconic design as follows: “Instead of sitting flat on a paper cup, the Solo Traveler Coffee-Cup Lid features a domed configuration designed to make sipping more comfortable by accommodating not only the lips, but also the nose. In an unintended bonus, the Solo Traveler can also accommodate the foam of the cappuccinos and lattes that became popular in the United States in the late 1980s, when it was introduced. Its success was rapid and universal, and in the cutthroat world of coffee-cup-lid production, imitations soon followed.”
So let us all raise our cups and tip our lids in appreciation of Hulseman’s life-improving creations.