The history of the Dixie Cup began when Lawrence Luellen first became interested in an individual drinking cup in 1907, through a lawyer named Austin M. Pinkham, with whom he shared the same business suite on State Street in Boston. Pinkham had investors who were interested in forming a company to manufacture a flat-folded paper drinking cup which would be delivered by a vending machine and connected to a water cooler. The object was to dispense a pure drink of water in a new, clean, and individual drinking cup.
In 1908, Luellen created the American Water Company of New England, along with a small group of investors. The company had started out in New York but eventually moved to a site in the Lehigh Valley to increase production.
Luellen developed a vending machine that for a price of a penny would dispense a cool drink of water in an individual cup. This “Luellen Cup & Water Vendor” was a tall, white porcelain device divided into four parts: a glass jug of water on top of an ice container, a middle section for waste water, and a bottom receptacle for discarded cups. The cup dispenser was attached to the front of the vendor.
The Individual Drinking Cup Company from New York was incorporated in Maine at the end of 1910. This company began to produce paper cups after Luellen granted his patents to the new company. The plant originally occupied only one floor (6000 square feet), but eventually expanded to six before the move from New York.
In 1912, the company’s product was named the Health Kup. Paper cups became more and more popular, especially after an outbreak of flu following the First World War. In 1913, a related venture, the Individual Service Company was established to vend towels, soap, deodorizers, and sanitary napkins.
By 1916, more than 100 railroads throughout the country, including the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Lackawanna, The Chicago, Illinois Central, some New York Central lines, as well as the Pullman Company had entered into contracts to sell the Individual Drinking Cup Company’s products.
The Dixie Cup Co. plant in Wilson opened in 1921 with 78 employees. In 1923, the Dixie Cup Co. began to produce cups for ice cream portions, opening the Ice Cream Dixie franchise.
On the top of the factory was erected a giant Dixie Cup, which has garnered its own place in history. The 40,000-gallon Dixie Cup water tower has been a part of the Easton-area skyline for nearly a century. The first cup tower was smaller than the one today, which had served as an emergency water supply once used during the Hurricane Diane flood of 1955. The cup/water tower was changed over the years to reflect the evolving yet basic Dixie Cup designs.
According to a Dixie Cup newsletter article, pilots heading to Lehigh Valley International Airport used to use the cup, which was illuminated at night, as a marker for their approach. Shortly after Wilsonpark Ltd. took over ownership of the Dixie Cup plant, the giant cup was covered, to the dismay of residents. The cup reappeared a couple of years later with a redesigned logo created by a Wilson Area High School student with colors representing Wilson and Easton Area high schools.
The site was sold to investors in 1980 after a decision was made to move the working plant to another location. Joseph Reibman was a lawyer for the investors in 1983, but he soon became an investor himself, and he helped transform the former factory into a warehouse. Joseph Reibman currently owns 608,000 square feet of the property. He intends to transform the former production site into 330 apartments and 128,000 square feet of commercial space, which will include a hotel or offices, a restaurant, and other retail businesses. The project cost is estimated to be $80 million.
In 2008, the housing market collapsed, preventing Reibman from carrying out his plans. However, his luck turned in 2012; after the plant received a Keystone Opportunity Zone designation, he was granted a deferment of local taxes and taxes due to Northampton County until 2023.
Although manufacturing paper cups isn’t hazardous, asbestos had been used in the construction of the building, making it unsafe. Consequently, in 2019, state environmental officials began to clean up any pollution that remained at the former Dixie Cup facility. The project is still ongoing, and clean up work includes soil excavation, removal of various drums and containers, as well as closing underground tanks.
All photos are provided by Ellen Dunn Photography. You should check her Flickr account for more photos of abandoned places and amazing landscapes!