Today’s Illustration: “The Cup Of Death”

. . . . .

Who: Leo Hulseman

When: 1976

Where: Chicago, Illinois

What: The Red Solo Cup

  • “Before Leo Hulseman started the company on Chicago’s South Side during the Great Depression, the South Dakota native was a salesman for Vortex Manufacturing Company in Chicago, which used a machine patented in 1920 by local inventor David F. Curtin to make cone-shaped paper cups. Paper cups were in demand because of concerns about hygiene. [1]
  • Before the early 1900s, it had been common for people to drink water out of shared cups, but the twentieth century brought a growing awareness that this was a great way to ingest germs. In 1911, the Chicago City Council outlawed the use of “common drinking cups”—or the “Cup of Death,” as a Tribune headline put it—in “any building or place open to the public, or in any lodginghouse or boardinghouse, factory, office, store, or private school.” (The ordinance is still on the books.) [1]
  • In 1936, Hulseman founded his own business—originally called Paper Container Manufacturing—selling a similar paper cone. “He built a machine in his garage,” recalls grandson Paul Hulseman. “He would make the cups at night and sell them during the day.” The business soon took over an old ice plant at 75th Street and East End Avenue in the South Shore neighborhood. [1]The company’s 4.25-ounce cones were easy to pull from dispensers next to water coolers in offices and places like golf courses. “It’s the ultimate disposable, because it couldn’t be put down,” Paul says. Leo Hulseman later credited his company’s growth to an automatic paper-cup-making machine, which could churn out 250 cups a minute from a roll of paper. He bought that machine in 1940 from its inventor, George Method Merta, a Chicagoan who’d immigrated from the tiny mountain town of Metylovice in Czechoslovakia. [1]
  • 1936: Leo Hulseman founded the SOLO Cup Company, making paper cone cups. [2]
  • Hulseman purchased a machine that was made by a Czechoslovakian immigrant,  George Method Merta.  The machine would make paper cones.
  • 1970s: The Hulseman family expanded the paper product portfolio to include plastic cups – originally in red, blue, yellow, and peach. [2]
  • 1976: The iconic plastic SOLO Cup was patented. [2]
  • 1980–2000: SOLO expands offerings to more households, restaurants, and grocers throughout the U.S. [2]
  • 2012: SOLO Cup Company is purchased by Dart Container Corporation, greatly expanding product offerings. [2]
  • How did the name “SOLO” come to be the product’s name?
    “My uncle John, my dad, and my grandfather were sitting around the kitchen table one day. ‘Solo’ came up—as in ‘So high in quality, so low in price.’” But according to a 1965 court decision in a patent lawsuit brought by Solo against a competitor, Merta was already using the Solo name when Leo Hulseman bought Merta’s cup-making machine. Merta “made a design for the paper, selected the name Solo for the cups, after a suggestion from his wife that it would be a good name for a one-use disposable container, and had the design printed on the roll of paper by a printer in Chicago,” the judge noted. Although she isn’t mentioned by name in the ruling, the woman who came up with the Solo moniker was Czech immigrant Bozena Merta. And it was Bozena herself who’d patented a conical drinking cup in 1936—a design she stumbled upon while working with a paper heart on a Valentine box. (The Mertas moved to Los Angeles, where George died in 1975 and Bozena in 1989.) [1]
  • “Why Are Solo Cups Red? . . . “As the story goes, the inventor of the red Solo cup, Robert Hulseman, asked his kids to help him pick the colors for his new plastic cups. Red happened to be one of the colors on their list! Psychology can explain why red is the most popular color for Solo cups. This vibrant color is said to be associated with adventure, excitement, and energy. For this reason, red is often used by food and drink companies, like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, because just seeing the color can increase our heart rates and evoke happy memories. [3]
  • Country singer Toby Keith released his hit song, “Red Solo Cup.” It peaked at #1 on the Billboard charts and was certified double platinum after selling 2 million digital downloads! — [3]
  • Approximately 400,000 people post a picture throughout the year of a red Solo cup.  That may be some of their greatest advertising.
  • Leo Hulseman died in 1989
  • Robert Hulseman, Leo’s son, died in 2016
  • Solo Cups is now owned and operated by the Dixie Corporation

. . . .

Key Biblical Thoughts:

  • death
  • sickness / sorrow
  • communion
  • cup
    “cup of cold water
    “able to drink the cup that I drink”
    “make clear of the outside of the cup”
    “cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils”
    “cup of salvation”
    “cup of trembling / cup of fury”
  • cup of wrath / death — Revelation
  • cupbearer (Nehemiah)

. . . . . 

Sermonic Example:

(Include whatever details you find useful)

The idea began in the early 1900’s because of the new understanding that disease was transmitted from person to person by sharing a common cup.  In 1911, the city of Chicago outlawed the use of common cups and called them “the cup of death.”

Thousands of years before “the cup” — the cup of death. It was contaminated with the sins of humanity! Jesus is the only one who drank that cup of death for the transgressions of all men.

. . . .

Other Information & Links:



Our story starts in 1936. SOLO cup inventor Leo Hulsemen began his career by producing and distributing small, disposable paper cones designed to ensure public health and safety. In the following years, SOLO produced a variety of products made of different materials.

The iconic red SOLO cup was first released in the ‘70s. The red plastic party cup was a success with families and businesses alike. Since then, SOLO has evolved to produce a full range of everyday and party supplies that bring together food, fun and good times with ease.

Today, SOLO is a beloved brand line within Dart Container Corporation. SOLO’s devoted fans post over 400,000 photos a year of their good times with our products, and we plan to continue inspiring that loyalty.”


    • 1936: Leo Hulseman founded the SOLO Cup Company, making paper cone cups.
    • 1970s: The Hulseman family expanded the paper product portfolio to include plastic cups – originally in red, blue, yellow, and peach.
    • 1976: The iconic plastic SOLO Cup was patented
    • 1980–2000: SOLO expands offerings to more households, restaurants, and grocers throughout the U.S.
    • 2004: Solo Cup Company acquires SF Holdings, including the Sweetheart brand and the epic Jazz® design.
    • 2008: SOLO launches Bare®, a variety of eco-forward products for home and foodservice use made using recyclable*, recycled, compostable, or renewable materials.
    • 2012: SOLO Cup Company is purchased by Dart Container Corporation, greatly expanding product offerings.
    • Today and Future: Dart continues to innovate and evolve, ensuring that the SOLO brand remains the go-to connector for food, fun, and friendships.”


“Leo Hulseman, a former employee at the Dixie Company, started “Solo Cup” in his garage in Highland Park, Illinois. The company was later taken over by his son, and the main headquarters relocated about 15 minutes away to Lake Forest, Illinois.”

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