Opinion: A history of coffee mugs


Commentary by Ward Degler

I was unloading the dishwasher the other day when I suddenly realized there wasn’t enough room in the cabinet to put all the coffee mugs away. Where on earth did they all come from?

We have mugs from many different places. I’d get rid of some of them, but they all mean something to us for one reason or another. Some came from special people. Others help us recall special times.

My wife’s favorite is a slate-gray mug that used to have the name of a company I worked for on it. The dishwasher erased the logo a long time ago, but she still likes it. One of my favorites came from a special church, given to me by a special friend. It’s bleached white now, but I treasure it.

My all-time favorite mug has the image of a panda on the front. And on the back is the rear end of the panda. I call it my panda-rama mug. My wife mutters something about panda-monium.

We didn’t have mugs when I grew up. We had teacups; porcelain teacups with saucers. Dad used to say my grandfather would slosh some of his coffee into the saucer and fan it with his hat to cool it. You can’t do that with a mug, he said.

Mugs have been around for a long time. Some, made of bone, date back to the Stone Age. Back in 1475, the mugs at the Kiva Hau coffee shop in Constantinople were made of wood.

In 1778, the British, apparently still smarting from something that happened two years earlier in the Colonies, banned coffee and mugs as being uncivilized. After all, the only dignified drink for a proper Englishman was tea, and that only when served in a proper china teacup.

Mugs got their greatest shot in the arm in 1945 when the Victor Insulator Co. came up with the Victor Mug for the war effort. The mug was made to military specifications: Thick, heavy and white ceramic porcelain with a rough bottom to keep it from sliding on slippery tables on Navy ships. The Victor folks claimed you could drop a Victor mug from a height of 6 feet without it breaking.

After the war, these heavy mugs became known as Diner Mugs, also virtually unbreakable. One of the largest producers of Diner Mugs was the Red Wing Pottery Co. in Red Wing, Minn. Red Wing made tough stoneware mugs and dishes from its founding in 1861 until a lengthy strike forced it out of business in 1967.

Someone told me, however, that Red Wing is back in business making mugs. I don’t have any of those, but I do have a Snoopy mug, a Charlie Brown mug and one with Woodstock sitting on the edge of the birdbath drinking a mug of coffee.


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