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The Red Solo Cup: Every Party's Most Popular Guest
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The Red Solo Cup: Every Party's Most Popular Guest

Art & Design


Tonight, like most Saturday nights in college towns across the country, students are getting ready to party, and the one thing most of those parties will have in common besides a few chilled kegs is a large stack of cups - red plastic cups to be precise. And just how did these big, bright liquid holders get so popular that folks are now singing about them, producer Lauren Silverman volunteered to do some research.

LAUREN SILVERMAN, BYLINE: That red cup is part of a legacy that stretches back 75 years. It's made by a company called Solo from the folks that brought us those little paper cone cups at the water cooler and the wax-lined cups at fast-food joints. But nothing has had the impact of the red Solo cup.

SETH STEVENSON: My first experience with the Solo cup, I am guessing, it was in high school at some kind of keg party we should not have been throwing.

SILVERMAN: That's Seth Stevenson. He's a reporter for Slate Magazine, an occasional beer drinker and a major fan of country-singer Toby Keith's new song.


TOBY KEITH: (Singing) Now, red Solo cup is the best receptacle for barbecues, tailgates, fairs and festivals. And you...

SILVERMAN: OK, wait a second. I need to make it clear that Solo did not pay Toby Keith to write this song. Even scarier, he's just one of many who worship at the shrine of the red cup.

KIM HEALY: Actually, I've seen people use it as a to-go cup. One woman, I watched her make her scrambled eggs in the morning, and she put it in her cup and she said, this is how I go to work.

SILVERMAN: That's Kim Healy. She's vice president of Solo's consumer business department.

HEALY: People make flowers out of these cups. We had someone that made a full lobster costume out of our cups - head to toe.


KEITH: (Singing) I love you red Solo cup. I lift you up. Proceed to party.

HEALY: When I joined the company and saw how iconic the red party cup was, my first inclination was, well then, we shouldn't change anything about it.

SILVERMAN: But that's exactly what Kim Healy did in 2009. And it caught Seth Stevenson's eye.

STEVENSON: One day, I was walking through the grocery store and I noticed a subtle change. And the red Solo cup had square sides and a square bottom instead of the round one I was used to. And suddenly, it occurred to me that the red Solo cup has been this ever-present item in my life since I was a teenager, and it had changed. Looks like a tank.

SILVERMAN: The shape changed, Kim Healy says, because people wanted something sturdier, that wouldn't slip out of your hand when beer sloshes over the side.


KEITH: (Singing) You're more than just plastic. You're more than amazing. You're more than fantastic.

SILVERMAN: Now, plenty of other companies make disposable plastic cups, and a lot of them are cheaper than Solo's. But this is the one that's become king of the keggers.

STEVENSON: It's just become synonymous with partying. And when people go to the store to stock up for their barbecue, that red Solo cup, it calls to them.

SILVERMAN: And now, it sings.


KEITH: (Singing) Red Solo cup, I fill you up. Let's have a party, let's have a party.

SILVERMAN: Lauren Silverman, NPR News.

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