Promo University

History of Coffee Mugs

Alyssa Mertes

Published: December 8th, 2020

Coffee dates back to the 11th century with the first mugs made from wood, metal, or animal bones. The invention of ceramics changed the design of coffee cups, allowing for bold colors, intricate designs, and company logos printed on the surface.

Imagine the world without our favorite hot beverages. Building a snowman in the winter wouldn't be as fun without the promise of hot chocolate. A piping hot cup of tea to wind down after a long day wouldn't be the same without porcelain mugs and kettles. Who doesn't remember their first taste of coffee? Hot drinks are part of the best memories, and in turn, the best memories can be preserved on custom mugs!

What's the history of coffee mugs? When was the first coffee mug created? Sit back and relax, pour yourself a hot cup of joe, and get ready to learn the brief history of coffee mugs.

Hour Glass

History of Coffee Mugs Timeline

Stay caffeinated and get a full look at the different styles of coffee mugs over the years. From copper mugs to custom diner cups, you'll see how this morning hero has evolved over the years.

  • 3000 BC

    Neolithic mug Source:

    Early humans during the Neolithic era poured their beverages into wooden or metal mugs or even animal skulls. The invention of the pottery wheel allowed for ceramic or clay mugs such as this one, excavated in east-central China.

  • 2400 BCE

    Beaker pots Source:

    People in Britain drank from "beaker pots," which were bell-shaped pieces of pottery. These reflected the Bell-Beaker culture that is rumored to have migrated across Europe.

  • 1200

    Geometric clay   mug Source: Royal-Athena Galleries, New York, "World Ceramics:  From Prehistoric to Modern Times" by Hugo and Marjorie Munsterberg

    The evolution of ceramics allowed ancient people to showcase their artistry. With the pottery wheel, new designs and imprints could be created such as the geometric pattern on this clay mug. 

  • 1600s

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

    Novelty mugs came onto the scene in the form of puzzles in Europe. These custom mugs had dribble holes and tunnels inside the handle and cup walls, making them difficult to drink from.

  • 1750

    Transfer  printing Source:

    Transfer printing emerged as a decoration technique during the Industrial Revolution. This allowed for the mass-production of customized mugs.

  • 1945

    Victor mug Source:

    The Victor Insulator Company offered a piece of Americana with their simple white diner mugs. These came screen-printed with the name of the eatery and were used throughout the country.

  • 1992

    Espresso mug Source:

    Espresso mugs became available in colors other than white and started featuring a logo for decoration. Illy was the first company to offer decorated espresso mugs such as the one pictured here.

  • 1997

    Starbucks holiday cup Source:

    The first branded Starbucks cup made its debut, with the design changing over the years. They've offered cups with all kinds of patterns and colors, as well as exclusive holiday cups.

  • 1997

    Thermo mug Source:

    Thermos turned their attention to insulated travel tumblers. These high-quality mugs are the perfect companions for lengthy commutes and groggy mornings.

  • Mid-2000s

    Rubiks cube mug Source:

    Companies began to get creative with the designs of their mugs, such as this Rubiks Cube Mug pictured here. While you can't necessarily solve the puzzle, you can at least get your daily caffeine fix right in the cup!

  • Mid-2000s

    Heat sensitive mug Source:

    Taking advantage of heat-sensitive paint, a variety of custom heat-changing mugs came onto the scene. As you warm up your cup of joe the image will alter and change colors, creating an entirely new design.

  • 2018

    Travel mug Source:

    The world continues to think of new ways to change the mug's design, such as this temperature-controlled, 12 oz. travel mug created by Ember Technologies.

The History of Coffee Mugs: Bad to the Bone

The discovery of coffee dates back to the 11th century in Ethiopia, but the first mugs were actually discovered long before that in China and Japan. These mugs were made from wood or even animal skulls during the Neolithic Stone Age. There is no evidence as to whether or not early humans drank coffee in these cups, but they still remain some of the first pieces of drinkware on the planet!

Neolithic mug Source:

As the world advanced, drinkware became available in different materials. Upgrading from the animal bones of the Neolithic Age, mugs were made 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. That's why you should never touch a metal bowl when it comes out of the microwave!

neolithic mug Source:
Did you know?

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

When Were Ceramic Mugs Invented?

Drinking from bone mugs was not the most sanitary practice and metal mugs were causing blisters and burns. For the first time, ancient civilizations were able to create tangible, customized objects with the invention of ceramics. Ceramics are made from clay that has been mixed with water and heated to a high temperature. The industry has roots tracing back to ancient Mesopotamia, India, and Egypt. The technique for creating these ceramics changed throughout time with many inventions being introduced to the craft, including the pottery wheel in 3000 BC. This wheel produced many fine works including vases, bowls, plates, vessels for storing water, and of course, coffee mugs.

Clay mug Source: Royal-Athena Galleries, New York, "World Ceramics:  From Prehistoric to Modern Times" by Hugo and Marjorie Munsterberg

Ceramics went beyond just containers for food and beverages. Ancient civilizations wanted to create art and establish culture. Eventually, clay mugs were created on the pottery wheel and then decorated by hand. Before firing, they would use their fingers, sticks, or strings to add texture and patterns. Some of the earliest instances of branding came at this time. Potters would mark their ceramic mugs, pots, and vases with a design that identified the object as one being made by their tribe.


Have you ever passed by a stretch of wet cement in a sidewalk? Isn't it tempting to write your initials, leave a handprint, or make a design in the cement? It seems to be part of human nature to express ourselves by embellishing the surfaces of the objects around us.

Ruth Kassinger, Ceramics: From Magic Pots to Man-Made Bones

Did you know?

One of the first decorated coffee mugs was found in Greece around 4000 – 5000 BCE.

What are Puzzle mugs?

Ceramics made it possible for mugs to be customized in many unique ways. One such method was puzzle mugs, which were introduced in Europe in the 1700s. These novelty cups had holes hidden inside the handle and cup walls. The trick was to cover all the spouts with your fingers in order to sip your drink. The potter would include instructions in a sealed envelope on how to drink from the mug.

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

Puzzle mugs were also known as teasing pitchers or water jugs and were found in village inns and public houses until the 19th century. The holes in the drinking vessel created an ornate design, and some mugs even featured engraved messages on the body. Many taverns kept these mugs in house as a way to entertain their customers. 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 of these novelty mugs!

What is Transfer Printing?

As the world continued to advance, new decoration techniques were introduced for customizing mugs with bold designs. During the mid-1750s, transfer printing emerged in Britain for creating patterns onto ceramics. The process began with a flat copper plate being engraved. Next, the plate was inked with a coloring and the design was pressed on with a thin sheet of tissue paper. Finally, the custom mug was fired in a kiln and completed.

transfer printing Source:

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


Transfer printing was the English alternative to hand-painting designs onto mugs. This came during the Industrial Revolution when mass-production was in full swing and people were looking for a way to get their products at faster rates. Although it's more personalized, painting by hand was time-consuming and didn't allow for bulk orders, which was essential for advertising with mugs in the future.

A Taste of Americana:
Victor Coffee Mugs

All Hands on Deck!
Mugs with intricate designs were very popular in Europe, but the military called for more practical products. In 1945, the Victor Insulator Company released thick, insulated mugs with non-slip bottoms for the US Navy. Not fussing over appearances, these mugs were designed to be practical, with white finishes and sturdy handles. The mug could withstand rocky waters and battle conditions and were built to survive drops from tables when the ship would rock. The Victor Insulator Company had built a reputation on creating products that withstood high-stress, high-voltage conditions. An entire team at the company was hired to focus solely on the production of these mugs, all created by hand.

Victor mug

From the Ship to the Table
After the war, this durable mug made its way off the ships and onto tables in diners across the country. These eating establishments grew to associate the Victor Diner Mug with high-quality and style as new colors and handle shapes were introduced. In fact, the mugs became so popular that a magazine at the time, simply named The Diner, included features about coffee and showed photos of people holding their Victor mugs.

Victor mug

While custom mugs have been in use since the late 1800s, the Victor Diner Mug emerged in tandem with the homey feeling of the all-American diner. It became standard fare at restaurants all over the world, their establishment's name and logo printed on the exterior. The diners would work closely with the china companies, sometimes even basing their imprint on a sign in their establishment or something on their menu. These mugs were used to hold the customer's coffee, which at the time cost only a nickel.

Diner Source:

Custom mugs were 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

Custom Mugs at Every Meal
At first, the Victor Diner Mugs were used only in-house to hold a patron's coffee. However, with their sturdy foundation and smooth exterior, these mugs became valuable promotional products for customers to bring home after their meals. By the 1970s, diners all over the country began to offer custom mugs for sale, along with baseball caps, t-shirts, and other promotional items. This was an upgrade from the typical matches and toothpicks diners used to advertise previously. A custom coffee mug had the power to make a small diner with only 40 seats seem just as special as a bigger restaurant chain.

According to Exploring Upstate, the authentic Victor's Diner Coffee Mug is no longer in production. However, you can still find variations of the classic style in use today! Whether it's Victor brand or any other mug, there's no underestimating the value of a durable, customized mug.


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, Exploring Upstate

The History of Starbucks Mugs

While Victor mugs are no longer in production, other iconic coffee mugs have emerged over the years. One of the most well-known is the line offered in Starbucks throughout the country. The simple white coffee cup with the green logo has become famous, inspiring the plastic tumblers and ceramic mugs on the marketplace.

Starbucks officially came onto the scene in 1971, around the same time diners started offering custom mugs in their establishments. It didn't take long for the company to build their brand and develop a loyal following. As such, they began to offer customized products for their customers to take home. Some of their most popular were the travel tumblers and ceramic mugs. Featuring their bold mermaid logo, new mugs are frequently released with intricate designs and bold patterns, as well as holiday and store exclusives. The mermaid was inspired by mythical sirens who lured sailors with their flowing hair and strong presence. Fittingly, this logo started luring customers back to Starbucks time and time again.

Your favorite cappuccino has been served in a variety of colorful, reusable cups over the years. Take a look at some of Starbucks most eye-catching designs!

Promos in Action: Java Plus

Any company can benefit from advertising with personalized coffee mugs, especially small coffee shops like Java Plus. Located in Aurora, Illinois, the same hometown as the Quality Logo Products® headquarters, this quaint café offers the neighborhood fix of delicious espresso drinks and coffee at an affordable price.

Like many other coffee shops, Java Plus relies on branded coffee mugs for their campaigns. This small coffeehouse believes in the power of a good coffee mug and has seen first-hand how powerful this promo can be in action. Whether it's serving their beverages from their mobile coffee shop or offering $1 refills for customers, Java Plus gets a boost of energy from their personalized mugs.

Java plus Source:

People want personalized mugs with something that's special for them. Everybody drinks coffee or tea, when they lift the mug up and it has your logo, that's good for your business.

Mike Morkert, Owner of Java Plus

Why You Should Use Promo Coffee Mugs

Not only are custom coffee mugs collectible products, they're also likely to be used every single day. They are both a useful giveaway item and a cozy reminder of snuggling up at home. From colorful ceramic mugs to portable custom travel mugs, you can't go wrong with your logo on a personalized coffee mug.

Stats 1 icon

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

Stats 2 icon

84% of consumers keep their branded mugs because they're useful.

Stats 3 icon

Logoed mugs are more effective than TV and radio ads, with 57% of people recalling the advertiser on a mug.

Stats 4 icon

53% of U.S. consumers own promotional drinkware.

The Bottom Line

Your kitchen cabinet is likely full of all kinds of coffee mugs, but there's no beating your favorite one with the custom imprint. Whether you sip from a mug made of animal bones or opt for a classic ceramic mug, every sip tastes that much better in a coffee cup!

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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9. Regency Redingote Blog, "Puzzle Jugs in the Regency"

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13. Raghav, Saumya, Design Hill, "Starbucks Logo – An Overview of Design, History and Evolution."