GM Cup Holder, 1992-1999

This plastic cup holder was manufactured for installation in General Motors sedans such as the Buick LeSabre, Oldsmobile Delta 88, and the Pontiac Bonneville. Its spring-loaded design allowed for two cups of various sizes to fit snugly at the center console.
In the 1940s and ‘50s, prior to the in-car cup holder, drivers typically consumed beverages when the vehicle was parked at places like drive-in theatres or restaurants. There, a restaurant employee would hook a tray holding food and drinks on the driver’s window; passengers had to hold their drinks or set them on the floor of the car. Since then, manufacturers have developed various devices to facilitate eating and drinking while on the go.
One big idea for keeping beverages upright in automobiles was introduced around 1955 and involved the glove compartment door. With two shallow wells for cups, the inside surface of the door created a tray when the glove box was opened. This design was effective in a stationary vehicle and was used until around 1980. In the meantime, during the 1960s and ‘70s, motorists tried using coffee mugs designed with wide, flat, rubberized bases that could be set on the dashboard without sliding around or tipping over. Around 1980, the in-car cup holder became an important feature in new automobiles. Since then designers have created a variety of models, placing them in convenient locations, like the center console and the door arm rests.
As more motorists were eating on the go and drive-thru dining became a more frequent choice among commuters and busy families, Americans wanted their cars to accommodate those changes. Cup holders had to be easily accessible and as spill-proof as possible so motorists could enjoy beverages while driving. It was not until the mid-1990s when manufacturers felt they had created a cup holder that could grip nearly every drink imaginable with the spring loaded designs that changed to fit the size of the drink. The number of cup holders a car contained became a huge selling point for new cars, and cup holders are now found in all areas of the vehicle interior. The functionality and convenience of cup holders has become a distinctly American obsession, reflecting the desire of Americans to do much more than drive and listen to music. The cup holder has helped the American car become an extension of the American home.
Ref: “Driving: Forget Options. Where Do I Put My Coffee?” The New York Times, July 19, 2002
“Driven to Drink,” Los Angeles Times, April 13, 1997
“Dinner at 70 MPH,” Los Angeles Times, June 10, 2007
“Cup holders paved way for interior car design,”
Currently not on view
Object Name
cup holder
date made
Physical Description
plastic (overall material)
black (overall color)
overall: 1 1/2 in x 4 1/2 in x 7 1/2 in; 3.81 cm x 11.43 cm x 19.05 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000
See more items in
Work and Industry: Food Technology
FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Paula Johnson

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