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When and Why: The Invention of Car Cup Holders

The automobile has gone through a lot of evolution through the years. Today, vehicles have a more comfortable ride, more fuel efficient engine, smarter technology, and cup holders. However, cup holders were not standard in early cars. In fact, cup holders were considered as one of the most significant advancements in the automotive industry.

Car cup holders were not a standard feature in early automobiles because eating and/or drinking inside the vehicle was not a common practice. Motorists needed to stop driving in order to eat or drink. However, in 1948, In-N-Out Burger introduced the Drive-Thru dining concept in California. Americans went gaga over the drive-thru concept, which gave them the idea of how cool it is to eat while they’re on the road. As a result, motorists were finding a way on how to eat more comfortably inside their cars. Imagine eating a burger while you’re holding a soda on your other hand–what a hassle.

With that, the snack tray for car” was introduced in 1950. The tray hangs from two cords which are attached on the car’s dashboard. The tray comes with two holes, which can hold bottles or glasses. When not in use, the tray can be folded and placed inside the glove compartment. Three years later, the Automobile Seat Article Holder was patented. It is a hinged plate that’s integrated with round compartments, and it is placed between the seat cushions. To give you an idea, this cup holder is somehow similar to the design concept seen in the folding center armrest in modern cars, which is found at the rear passenger area

Cadillac came up with a new idea in 1957 and revealed a magnetized glove compartment door along with a set of four metal tumblers. This magnetized glove compartment was fitted to the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham.

Designers kept thinking on how to make the perfect car cup holders. Chrysler made a huge buzz when the Dodge Caravan minivan was released in 1983. It featured a cup holder that was integrated to its dashboard, a first in the industry. But, up until this year, car cup holders were not considered as a standard feature. That was changed courtesy of a 79-year-old woman named Stella Liebeck.

Liebeck was not the one who perfected the design of car cup holders–rather, she was the reason why cup holders became an essential car feature. In 1992, Liebeck ordered a cup of McDonald’s coffee, which spilled on her lap while inside a parked car. Of note, the coffee was extremely hot and caused her to have third-degree burns–ouch. So, Liebeck sued McDonald’s and was awarded USD2.7 million, but it was reduced to around USD500,000 due to an appeal. As a result, car engineers and designers were tasked to come up with the perfect car cup holders. But why? Well, it was believed that Liebeck’s coffee spilling incident could have been prevented if only there was a cup holder inside the car. The rest is history. Today, most cars have cup holders as well as bottle holders.

Do you value the functionality of car cup holders? Share your thoughts below.

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