The humble coffee lid doesn’t get much attention, unless you’re in the process of sloshing hot coffee all over yourself. But those sippable to-go cup lids are more complicated than you think. “The coffee lid is like a strand of our cultural DNA—a tiny, almost invisible detail that when looked at carefully can reveal lots about who we are,” writes designer and Mmuseumm founder Alex Kalman in the forward to Coffee Lids: Peel, Pinch, Pucker, Puncture, a book that explores the design evolution of the plastic hot-beverage lid.
Coffee Lids is a semi-exhaustive look at the extensive coffee-lid collection gathered over the course of several decades by architects Louise Harpman and Scott Specht, who write that “coffee lids are modest modern marvels hiding in plain sight.” Divided into four sections based on the way that you open them to drink—peel, pinch, pucker, and puncture—the book forms a gallery of up-close, detailed photos of the lids in the collection and images from the lid designs’ original patents.
Here are nine unexpected lid facts we learned from the book.
1. THEY DATE BACK TO THE 1950s. Specht and Harpman trace the invention of the drink-through lid in the U.S. back to Delbert E. Phinney, who patented his design for an insulated, disposable cup and lid in 1953. It was a peel-type lid that included a piece that could be lifted up with a fingernail to create a hole to drink from. However, the drink-through lid design didn’t take off until decades later, when American drivers and other to-go customers sought to drink their hot beverages on the road, just like they already did with iced drinks that came with straws. So they took the opaque, flat plastic lids that their hot coffees came with, and ripped a hole in them to drink out of. It worked, but it wasn’t exactly a convenient practice. And so inventors, designers, and manufacturers began to make lids that were specifically constructed with drinking on the go in mind.