A Thirsty Invention

Spring is a busy time for my outreach education programs. Last week alone I spent three days on the road presenting 11 programs to very enthusiastic fourth graders. I bring a lot of stuff with me for whichever program I deliver. Kids love to see stuff and hear the stories that go along with it. One very simple object I bring with me always seems to bring ooh’s and aah’s and “that’s so cool” and “do they still make those” remarks from kids no matter what age:

The Collapsible Cup, patent # 577764, February 23, 1897, invented by John Lines of the Scovill Manufacturing Company, then of Waterbury Connecticut.

Patented as the Collapsible Cup, but marketed as a “Cyclist’s Cup” over a hundred years ago when cycling was probably more popular as a form of entertainment than it is today.Designed to collapse and fit nicely into ones pocket or bag it was a functional and civil way to quench your thirst after a spin in the country or city. When I show it, all collapsed and closed up, the kids think it is a bell at first glance. I take the cover off, flip it open and that’s when the ooh’s and aah’s start. Have to love that as a historian…….which leads to further discussion about Connecticut’s cycling past.

Connecticut has a great cycling history. Just a sampling: Columbia bikes were made in Hartford beginning in 1878 and the company flourished here for many years as the bike riding craze swept across the nation. (The first bikes sold, 60 inch high wheelers sold for up to $125.00 in 1878.)


Pierre Lallement Showing Off His Invention


Prior to that, Pierre Lallement, a Frenchman who moved from Paris to Ansonia CT, was granted in 1866 the earliest American patent for a pedal bicycle. He just may be the inventor of the modern bicycle!

So the next time you’re out cruising around on your bike on a hot summer day and you reach down and grab a bottle of water or whatever out of your bottle rack, think of the collapsible cup and the ooh and aah’s it brings out in kids today and the thirsts it quenched back in the day.






2 thoughts on “A Thirsty Invention

  1. I recently found one of these cups while using my metal detector , curious to the cost of one of these antique , hard to find , adjustable cups . Dan Barham

    • I’ve picked them up at tag sales for a couple bucks but have also seen them on eBay for anywhere from $10-$25. Depends on condition. Sometimes they were given out as gifts when a person subscribed to a newspaper or magazine or won a contest years ago. Examples with advertising in the sides or bottom can be worth a bit more.

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