News of the death of Robert Leo Hulseman came during the this last week of 2016. While many of you may not be familiar with Bob Hulseman, most of us have used one of his patented products, the Solo cup. Solo cups have been around since the 1970s and come in as many colors as the lights on a Christmas tree. According to a family member, blue was actually Mr. Hulseman’s favorite color, however, red is the best seller.
To gain a better understanding of this timeless invention requires looking back to the 1930s. [Ref 1] Bob’s father, Leo Hulseman, created a paper cone he made at his home and sold them to bottled-water companies. This was the humble beginnings of the Solo Cup Company that was founded in 1936. How’s that for a homebased start-up or side project?
The Solo Cup Company added other products and employees over the years. According to the obituary published by the Huelseman family, Bob began working in the factory at Solo Cup Company at the age of 18. Over the course of nearly 60 years, he worked in a variety of roles and oversaw the company’s growth into one of the largest food service packaging companies in the world, ultimately serving as President and CEO before his retirement. He was known as an innovator, a hands-on manufacturing expert, and an industry pioneer. His son refers to him as a genius in the area of plastics manufacturing!
It was sometime during the 1970s that Bob developed and refined his invention that most of us know as the red Solo cup. While the exact details of how and why this invention came about, I’m guessing that the quest was for a convenient, durable, sturdy, light-weight and affordable product for both in- and outdoors use by consumers. Made of thick, molded polystyrene, the cups are stackable and they are also drop-able. More importantly for today’s genre, you can recycle them. Did I mention that they are dishwasher safe?
The cup’s characteristic red (and other opaque) color may also conceal the drinking contents. The New York Times and CNN report that Mr. Hulseman and Jack Clements, a Solo employee, designed the Traveler Lid for coffee cups in 1986. (Mr. Clements is credited with the patent.) The extra height of the lid accommodates whipped cream or cappuccino foam, and its inner ring reduces “dribble at the rim,” the company’s website says. In 2004, the Museum of Modern Art included it among 122 “Humble Masterpieces” of design. [Ref 2] Dart Container acquired the Solo Cup Company in 2012 and continues to make many of its products.
One of the urban legends that has surfaced over the years is that the lines on Solo cups are markings to designate serving sizes of various kinds of alcohol. W-e-e-e-l-l-l-l-l, there’s a little more to it than that! The company says their party cups are designed for functional performance and are not measurement lines. If the lines do coincide with certain measurements, it is purely coincidental.
Red Solo cups became so popular, that country singer Toby Keith penned a hit song by the same name, Red Solo Cup, in 2011. To New Year revelers and everyone else, be sure to raise at least one cup today to honor Robert Hulseman, who as Toby Keith states, “made the good times possible.”
Happy New Year everyone! Best wishes to each of you in 2017!
- Obituary for Robert Hulseman, 1932-2016, http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/chicagotribune/obituary.aspx?n=Robert-Hulseman&pid=183188582
- Pour one out: The inventor of the red Solo cup has died, by Doug Criss for CNN, December 29, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/29/health/red-solo-cup-death-trnd/ (last reviewed on 12.30.2016)