Whitney Russell
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The History of Cupholders

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2015 cadillac cts cup holder

2015 Cadillac CTS
Photo: Paul-Richard GM Center

If you like to stay hydrated on your journey, cupholders are likely an essential feature that you require on whichever new vehicle you purchase. While contemporary vehicles today might not have as many cupholders as the Subaru Ascent (19, which seems a bit much considering its eight-passenger capacity), they typically have at least a few cupholders to keep beverages secure while on the go.

Cupholders weren’t always around, however. You have to wonder exactly when this feature started appearing on vehicles.

drive in 1950s

Dick’s Drive-In on Broadway, 1955
Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives

It turns out that the cupholder trend arose in the 1950s, in the context of the American fast food trend. People started to eat inside of their vehicles more frequently. Drive-ins also surged in popularity.

According to Sam Dean, contributor with bon appétit, the first historical evidence we have of a cupholder prototype is a 1950 newspaper clipping for a snack tray gadget that hung from the dashboard via metal discs and chains.

Two other prototypes were the Automobile Seat Article Holder (a hinged plate wedged between the seats, intended to hold drinks), which was patented in 1953, and Clyde W. Morgan’s Refreshment Tray for Automobile Instrument Panel (which featured two wells to hold drinks).

In 1955, Chevy started including a cup holder indentation on the back of glove compartment doors. This definitely wasn’t meant for keeping beverages secure while the vehicle was in motion, though.

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1957 cadillac eldorado brougham magnetic cupholder

The magnetic tray of the 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham significantly contributed to the development of the modern cupholder.
Photo: DougCameraman

The most effective cupholder design of that era, however, was seen in the 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. While it was common for luxury limousines to include built-in bars, this Cadillac model was the first one to include a magnetized glove compartment door and four metal tumblers.

After this innovative contribution, cupholders developed even further in the 60s and 70s until the boom of the minivan in the 80s. Minivan models including the Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan, started incorporating two cup holders into the dashboard itself.

Props to Cadillac and the myriad of other companies that played a role in cupholder design, so we can continue to enjoy having a secure place to store hot beverages during morning commutes. And so we’re less likely to have this unfortunate scenario happen…


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News Sources: The Society Pages, Jalopnik, bon appétit