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How Dixie cups became the breakout startup of the 1918 pandemic


In 1907, Boston attorney Lawrence Luellen created a cup. It wasn’t made of glass or metal—the norm at the time. Instead, it was made of paper so it could be thrown away after use. While not earth-shattering in our current context, in the early 1900s there were no disposable paper tissues or paper towels. A cup made of paper was a novel idea, one with a noble goal: Luellen hoped his paper cups could help stop the spread of disease.


What makes this century-old startup story especially poignant today is that Dixie cups, as they came to be known, achieved only moderate growth for 10 years until the Spanish flu of 1918 made disposable cups a necessity and helped the Dixie cup become a household name. In 2012, Smithsonian Magazine even called the Dixie cup a “life-saving technology” that helped stop the spread of disease.

Before the Spanish flu hit, the company behind Dixie cups was a scrappy startup. But just as we’ve seen with the teleconferencing phenom Zoom in the COVID-19 era, Dixie cups shot to popularity with the arrival of a major health crisis. That’s why the Dixie cup’s story is instructive for startups struggling to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Embedded in the history of Dixie cups are important lessons for how startups can scale when times are good—and survive when times are hard. Please, to access the full article visit Fast Company


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