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The History of Coffee Mugs: From Animal Skulls to Diners

Alyssa Mertes

Published: December 8th, 2020

Can you imagine a world without hot drinks? Building a snowman in the winter wouldn't be as fun without the promise of hot chocolate afterward. It would be hard to unwind after a long day without a cup of tea. And then there's coffee, which 64% of Americans adults drink every single morning.

For all of these reasons and more, it's nice to have a stack of coffee mugs in your kitchen cabinet. Coffee cups actually have a fascinating history! This drinkware has been used for thousands and thousands of years.

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Americans have such a deep-rooted relationship to coffee. We might be drinking the same coffee as our office mates, but our mug is what sets us apart in the experience. I think a favorite mug can become an extension of who we are and that's comforting!

Chris Clemens, creator of Exploring Upstate

Hour Glass

History of Coffee Mugs Timeline

Pour yourself a cup of coffee and learn more about the evolution of mugs, from copper cups in the Neolithic Era to digital mugs that stay hot for an insanely long time. This timeline shows the coffee mug's incredible journey!

  • 3000 BC

    A picture containing indoor, plant, different, sliced Source:

    Blacksmiths started making mugs from gold, silver, bronze, or lead. These metal coffee cups were dangerous because they could cause lead poisoning and scalding burns when they were touched.

  • 3000 BC

    A picture containing indoor, plant, different, sliced Source:

    Blacksmiths started making mugs from gold, silver, bronze, or lead. These metal coffee cups were dangerous because they could cause lead poisoning and scalding burns when they were touched.

  • 2400 BC

    Beaker pots Source:

    People in Britain drank coffee, water, and even alcohol from "beaker pots," which were bell-shaped pieces of pottery. The Beaker folk, a group of hunters living at the time, were named after these pots. They ended up migrating across Europe, bringing their unique drinkware with them.

  • 850 BC

    Coffee beans

    An Ethiopian myth tells the story of Kaldi. The goat herder was said to accidentally discover coffee beans around 850 BC when his goats ate some from a tree. By the 15th century, the coffee trade was thriving and more and more people started drinking it on a regular basis.

  • 1200

    Geometric clay   mug Source: Royal-Athena Galleries

    Ceramics gave people in the Middle Ages a chance to show off their artistry. They could use a pottery wheel to create new intricate mugs with elaborate patterns, such as the geometric clay mug pictured here.

  • 1600s

    Puzzle mug Source: Blaxland, Wendy, "How Are They Made: Mugs and Plates"

    Puzzle mugs were used in Europe. These quirky mugs had dribble holes and tunnels drilled into the handle and cup walls. The cups were difficult to drink from and were mostly used as a joke. You can think of them as the first novelty mugs on the planet!

  • 1750

    Transfer  printing Source:

    Transfer printing emerged as a decoration technique during the Industrial Revolution. This process allowed for the mass production of custom mugs, which could then be sold at the new stores and businesses that were opening at the time.

  • 1941

    Transfer  printing

    The Moscow Mule was invented by a pub owner named Jack Morgan. He would pour this cocktail inside of copper mugs that were handcrafted at his girlfriend's copper-making business. Copper cups aren't recommended for coffee, but they are good for mixed drinks!

  • 1945

    Victor mug Source:

    Diner culture took over America! The Victor Insulator Company kept all those customers full of coffee with their simple white diner mugs. These cups were either plain or were screen printed with the name of the diner. Victor's mugs were found in restaurants throughout the United States.

  • 1992

    Espresso mug Source:

    Illy was one of the first companies to offer decorative espresso or cappuccino mugs. These coffee mugs are smaller than normal, typically come with saucers, and have tiny, C-shaped handles.

  • 1994

    Starbucks holiday cup Source:

    The first branded Starbucks mug made its debut. The coffee chain, which is worth over $30 billion, has offered new designs on their reusable mugs, tumblers, and travel mugs ever since. These coffee mugs sell like crazy, and there was even a collector's market that emerged for them after the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020!

  • 1997

    Thermo mug

    Thermos introduced their line of insulated travel mugs. Thermos is a high-quality brand that is best known for being inside of kid's lunch boxes. Now their drinkware is very popular with adults, especially when it comes to lengthy commutes and groggy mornings.

  • 2000s

    Rubiks cube mug Source:

    Novelty mugs, like the Rubik's Cube mug pictured here, became more popular than ever before. People wanted mugs with personality that they could use in the mornings or hand out as holiday gifts. Because of this demand, coffee mug manufacturers got creative with interesting shapes, fun new designs, and bright, bold colors.

  • 2000s

    Heat sensitive mug Source:

    Heat sensitive paint was invented in the 1970s, but it really became popular in the new millennium. This magical paint can be used to coat mugs, causing them to change before your eyes! As you warm up your coffee, the image will alter and change colors, creating an entirely new design.

  • 2018

    Travel mug Source:

    Ember Technologies blew everyone's minds with temperature-controlled travel mugs, which keep coffee piping hot for hours. This design was created by the same group who worked on Beats by Dre headphones!

  • 2020

    Heat sensitive mug Source:

    The COVID-19 inspired a ton of creative merch, such as these quarantine-ready coffee mugs. The face mask printed on the front is a clever nod to the mandatory masks that we all had to wear in public during the pandemic.

When Was Coffee Discovered?

Cup of Coffee Latte

The discovery of coffee dates back to 850 BC in Ethiopia. Legend has it that a goat herder named Kaldi noticed these beans on a tree growing near his farm. He thought they were berries at first, but when the goats ate them and couldn't sleep at night, he stumbled upon the power of caffeine!

By the 15th century, the coffee industry became a global trade. It all started on the Arabian Peninsula, but coffee soon made its way around the world. Coffeehouses also started popping up, giving people a safe place where they could chat, listen to music, play games like chess, and keep up on current news.

Cup of Coffee Latte

When Were Coffee Mugs Invented?

White Mug

The first coffee mugs were used during the Neolithic period (3900 BC – 1700 BC). These cups were crafted from wood or animal skulls and were used for water, spirits, mead, and wine. Coffee wouldn't be discovered until thousands of years later.

Thankfully, we stopped using animal skills and wood by 3000 BC. With the rise of metalwork, coffee mugs were made instead from gold, silver, bronze, and lead. These cups were almost impossible to drink from because the exterior would get extremely hot when the coffee was poured.

It was ceramics that changed coffee mugs forever during the Middle Ages. The timing was perfect as coffee was becoming the drink of choice throughout the world. Ceramic is the best material for coffee mugs since it can be painted in a variety of colors, washed in the dishwasher, and is able to withstand hot temperatures.

White Mug
Did you know?

The origins of the word "mug" come from the Swedish mugg, Norwegian mugge, or German mukke.

When Was Ceramic Invented?

Artifacts from the Holy Land

The history of ceramics can be traced back to 3500 BC in ancient Mesopotamia, India, and Egypt. The clay had to be shaped by hand until the invention of the pottery wheel, which was used to make more elaborate creations such as: vases, sculptures, bowls, plates, cups, and large pots for storing water.

Artifacts from the Holy Land

Ancient people used ceramics to create art and establish culture. They could show off their artistry, using their fingers, sticks, or strings to add texture and patterns to their creations. Potters would even mark their ceramic cups, pots, and vases with a logo that identified the object as being made by their tribe.

Today, many coffee mugs are made from ceramics. This material is durable, resistant to rust, looks elegant, and is easy to clean as it's often dishwasher safe.

Do you want to know how mugs are made? Check out this video!

What Were Puzzle Mugs?

Muddy Mountain Pottery

Puzzle mugs, which were also known as teasing pitchers or teasing jugs, were used in village inns and public houses in Europe in the 1700's. These novelty cups had holes hidden inside the handle and walls. The trick was to cover all the spouts with your fingers in order to sip your drink.

Muddy Mountain Pottery

Many taverns kept these puzzle mugs in house as a way to entertain their customers. Thankfully, potters would often include instructions in sealed envelopes with the cups that told a person how to take a drink. People would make bets on whether or not they could drain the mug without spilling on their shirts or laps. No telling how many third degree burns occurred as a result!

What is Transfer Printing?

A picture containing person, indoor

During the mid-1750s, transfer printing emerged in Britain as a way to add a decorative touch to ceramics. Sticky labels were created on copper plates and engraved with intricate patterns. These labels were then pressed onto the mugs before they were fired in a kiln.

A picture containing person, indoor

Transfer printing became popular during the Industrial Revolution when mass-production was in full swing. Factories were looking for a way to get their custom mugs out at faster rate, and with this design technique, they didn't have to waste time painting each one by hand.

This design method has been replaced with screen printing and digital printing today, but it definitely paved the way for a future of personalized mugs. Now you can get mugs decorated with anything you want, from your initials to your favorite movie characters!

When Did Coffee Mugs Become Popular?

A yellow mug on a table

Coffee mugs became very popular in 1945 when the Victor Insulator Company released thick white mugs with non-slip bottoms for the US Navy. These coffee cups were designed with sturdy handles and were built to withstand rocky sea voyages, epic battles, and long drops from tables when the ship rocked.

The Victor Insulator Company had built a reputation on creating durable mugs that withstood tough conditions. It wasn't long before everyday people wanted some for themselves. In fact, the mugs became so popular that a magazine at the time, simply named The Diner, featured photography of random people sipping happily from their Victor mugs. Diners all over the United States were pouring coffee in these durable cups.

A yellow mug on a table
bottom of cup

The Victor Diner Mug emerged in tandem with the homey feeling of the all-American diner. A good cup of coffee became associated with a good meal, which only served to increase the mug's popularity!

bottom of cup

When Were Coffee Mugs Used as Souvenirs?


According to Richard Gutman, a historian who researches diners in America, restaurants started offering custom mugs, baseball caps, t-shirts, and other promotional gifts as souvenirs around the 1970's. One of the first restaurants to have a gift shop was the Hard Rock Café, which started in the United Kingdom.

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Custom mugs are a good way to advertise because of the power and prevalence of a cup of coffee. A logoed mug has really become an iconic thing. You can't have too many coffee mugs.

Richard Gutman, Diner Historian

When Did Starbucks Start Selling Mugs?

person holding white plastic cup

Starbucks coffee mugs are famous. The simple white disposable cups with the green mermaid logo are held by customers at the 31,256 Starbucks stores around the world. True fans, however, sip their coffee from the insanely trendy mugs and tumblers that Starbucks started selling in 1994.

By offering trendy new mugs with irresistible designs, fans could start showing off their love of Starbucks outside of the store. Today, you will see all kinds of Starbucks merchandise beyond mugs, including t-shirts, bags, water bottles, and teddy bears.

Your favorite Starbucks coffee has been served in a variety of cool mugs over the years. Take a look at some of the most eye-catching designs!

person holding white plastic cup

Why Do We Love Coffee Mugs?

Mugs and Plates

You probably have a favorite coffee mug, and there are many reasons why. The first is a psychological phenomenon known as the endowment effect - the tendency people have to overvalue their possessions. You feel a strong emotional pull to your coffee cups simply because they belong to you.

Second, coffee mugs can be associated with happy memories, especially if you bought one as a souvenir, on a vacation or received one as a gift from someone you care about. Every time you take a sip, you'll be reminded of a special place, event, or person.

Finally, a custom coffee mug can have you feeling all the good vibes. When the cup is printed with a movie character, funny quote, or cute photo of your dog, it can do wonders in boosting your mood. You get to wake up every morning with something you love!

Mugs and Plates

Stats for Success

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60% of people have an emotional attachment to their favorite mug.

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79% of Americans prepare their coffee at home instead of buying it from shops like Starbucks or Dunkin'.

Stats 3 icon

The average mug holds about 12 ounces of coffee.

Stats 4 icon

In the United States, the average coffee drinker will consume about 3 cups per day.

The Bottom Line

Thank goodness we've stopped drinking from animal bones! You'll find a ton of coffee mugs to choose from, whether it's plain ceramic mugs, photo mugs, or cool mugs from a band, podcast, or TV show. Coffee mugs are a must in any kitchen and are also amazing personalized gifts. So let's pour our next cup in honor of the mug's incredible history!

Quality Logo Products are experts on all things printed and promotional. Let our team of awesome, incredibly good looking, and fun promo nerds help you select awesome promotional swag today!

4 random promtional products 4 random promotional products tablet
Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products. As a promo expert, she's uncovered the world's first custom tote bag, interviewed the guy behind rock band ACDC's logo, and had a piece published by the Advertising Specialty Institute, a leader in the promotional products industry.


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