‘Let Paper Do It’, Readdressing the Disposable: A History of the Paper Cup, 1865-1940
Paper cups are ubiquitous, pervasive, an omnipresent disposable in today’s modern world. This was not always the case. My dissertation establishes an early history of disposability before the 1950s consumer boom and ‘throwaway living’ – the infamous term coined by Life magazine in 1955 – is widely thought to have originated.
Examining this early manifestation of disposability I focus on one particular disposable – the paper cup. Tracing its history from innovation in paper manufacture through the products establishment in the 1910s and popularity throughout the 1920s and 1930s, a history previously neglected by scholars is constructed. Charting the creation, consumption and use of these objects the final chapter aims to draw conclusions from the example that has unfolded – what can be learnt about the nature of disposability itself?
Central to this examination is the material from which the product is made – what is it about a paper cup that makes it disposable? Paper plays a vital role not only in the creation of the product but significantly how it was understood. A 1940 Good Housekeeping article titled ‘Let Paper Do It’ exemplifies this communicative power, demonstrating that paper cups were understood as part of a wider range of goods whose labour saving quality was bestowed not only by what they did but also by what they were made of.
 Throwaway living’, Life, 1 August 1955, pp.43-44.
 Helen Tabor, ‘Let Paper Do It’, Good Housekeeping, 111:1 (July 1940), pp.96-97.
School of Fine Art
MA History of Design, 2014
- BA (Hons) History, King's College, London, 2008
- Exhibition coordinator, Two Temple Place, London, 2011–2013; Visitor services assistant, Wellcome Collection, 2009–2011 ; Gallery supervisor, Embankment Gallery, Somerset House, 2008–2010
- Bard Graduate Centre Scholarship 2013–2014
- Column editor, Material Matter, Unmaking Things