How the Red Cup Became a Must-Have Party Icon

They are seen in films from across all genres but how did the humble red party cup become the must-have for events from birthday parties to celebrity hangouts? We take a look at why it will be a great addition to your celebrations too.


It looks humble – a simple plastic red cup with a white interior – but the red American party cup is, in fact, an icon. It is seen in movies - there is hardly a party scene in American Pie, for example, without one – but how and why has this red plastic cup, also known as a Solo cup, become such a hit?

The history

The rise of the red party cup is synonymous with the rise of disposable dining and drinking ware. Being able to throw cups away was not to save on the effort of washing up but was a response to stemming the tide of diseases. The sharing of water dippers and ‘communal’ cups were germ-ridden.

Thus, the disposable cup rose to fame and glory. But why the red solo party cup?

The red solo party cup

Initially, disposable cups were made from paper. With an added wax lining, these cups became popular across American diners and home. But as plastic manufacture became easier and more affordable, production shifted.

The sturdiness

Leo Hulseman of the Paper Container Manufacturing Company in Chicago is widely credited with inventing the red party cup but before the company produced this gem for the world to enjoy, they produced another – the paper drinking cone. These small but handy drinking vessels can now be found stacked neatly alongside the millions of water coolers at workplaces, schools and colleges across the globe.

The paper cup was great… but it wasn’t very sturdy. Even with a wax lining, the rounded rim had a habit of breaking down. Plastic gave it the sturdiness needed in a drinking cup. It was large, it was easy to grip, it ticked all the boxes. The Paper Container Manufacturing Company has stumbled upon another gem.

The colour

Why red?

There are many theories from red being a ‘gender-neutral’ choice to the colour hiding what was in your cup. But the answer is simpler.

According to one executive from the company, red was the colour that simply outside all others.

It is available in other colours. For example, the blue solo party cup is just as sturdy and versatile as its red counterpart but is not as easily spotted in films or at parties!

The size

man holding a red solo party cup

Just when you think there is nothing more to sat about the red plastic party cup, it throws another curveball.

There can be few people who haven’t used the red party cup but when you do, you’ll notice a series of lines and indents on it.

These are not just there to promote grip but to give different drink options. The lines are measures, albeit according to American measures.

For example, at the very bottom, the first indented line indicates 1oz of spirit, the middle line indicates 5ozs, great for measuring your wine. The top lines represent the measurements for beer, lager and cider. There is a gap between these uppermost measurements and the rim of the cup so you can top off with whatever you want to, whether that’s a dash of lime in your lager for sweetness or just to allow the nose to enjoy the fruity or spicy bouquet of your drink.

The versatility

These line measures are just one aspect of the versatility of the cup. The other is that it is sturdy enough to last for as long as your party goes on for, whether that be a few hours or through the night.

Recyclable kerbside, the red party cup also offers another plus – you can write your name on it. Take a permanent marker, add your name to the underside or the outside wall of your cup and no longer will you put your cup down, only for it to disappear…

The price

The price is great too, with each cup costing pennies if that. Buy in bulk, such as a pack of 50, and you are talking less than a penny a cup.

Add the icon to your next party

For summer celebrations of festive get-togethers, the iconic red cup should be on your partyware shopping list, along with recyclable paper straws and cocktail umbrellas...