Who Invented the Travel Mug?

What did we do before the travel mug? Some of us, who shall remain nameless, used to drive around in a stick-shift car holding an old school ceramic mug filled with hot coffee in one hand while shifting gears with the other. And this was before the heady days of car cupholders had commenced! Accident waiting to happen? Absolutely!  Read on for a brief history of travel mugs, including who invented the travel mug, so once and for all we’ll know whom to thank for our current and ubiquitous beverage-on-the-go lifestyle.  

What Is a Travel Mug?

A travel mug is a reusable insulated mug that is designed to keep hot or cold drinks at their desired temperature for extended periods of time. Travel mugs are typically made from plastic, stainless steel, or ceramic, and they include a spill-resistant lid with a hole for drinking or a straw. Some travel mugs also have a handle, and almost all are designed to fit within a car cupholder. 

Can a Travel Mug Be Patented?

Yes, and like any great invention, it has been! “When were travel mugs invented,” you wonder? Same time as so many other less-than glamorous yet indispensable inventions including printers, word processors, Post-it® notes, cell phones, and roller blades: The 70’s, of course!  

One of the earliest patents for a travel mug was granted to a California real estate developer named Joseph F. Corey in 1978. Corey’s design featured a non-drip lid and and insulated interior with baffles that helped beverages stay hot or cold. It was immediately popular at gas stations across the USA.1 What’s a baffle, you ask? We were baffled about that as well. It’s a good definition to have in your back pocket, especially if you’re drinkware-obsessed word nerds like we are. A baffle is a vertical insert on the interior of a vessel that breaks the circulating flow pattern. This can serve to reduce heat or cold loss (temperature change), and reduce spills by slowing down movement of contents. That Joseph F. Corey sure was onto something!  

But the travel mug truly took off (pun!) thanks to Bob Sokolski, the founder of Whirley Industries. The company mass-produced plastic travel mugs in the early 1980’s that were made of durable plastic and featured a screw-on, spill-free, temperature maintaining lid. The magic of these mugs was that they were primarily distributed at convenience stores—perhaps the first branded travel mugs! More on that below! 

What Is the History of the Travel Mug?

The proliferation of plastic travel mugs, which dates from the early 1980’s, is largely the result of ”coffee club” promotions by convenience stores and made possible by the mass produced plastic travel mugs referenced above. How this worked: When a customer bought a mug at a Dunkin’ Donuts, a Circle K, or any other of the nation’s 67,500 convenience stores that had a coffee club at the time, they would become a “member”, entitled to buy refills at a discount.2 

In the 1990s, mega coffee shop chains such as Starbucks started selling travel mugs. These mugs changed seasonally and were (and still are) popular among both the most practical and most stylish of beverage sippers.   

In the past 20 years, travel mugs have become more and more sophisticated, with added features like stainless steel walls, copper lining, vacuum insulation, integrated straws and leak-proof lockable lids.   

What Are the Benefits of Using a Travel Mug?

There are many reasons why the history of the travel mug has grown from convenience store customer retention tool to road trip companion to status-symbol accessory, and beyond: 

  • Convenience: Travel mugs allow you to bring your favorite beverage with you wherever you go. This can be a lifesaver on those busy mornings when you don’t have time to stop for coffee or tea.
  • Less Waste: Bring your travel mug into the local coffee shop and pat yourself on the back for introducing one fewer disposable cup into landfills!
  • Fewer Spills: Travel mugs are designed to prevent spills, so you don’t have to worry about your beverage getting all over your clothes or belongings.
  • Branding: Throughout the travel mug’s history, then and now, this drinkware offers a highly visible billboard to advertise your small business, sports team, school, and more.

Now that we know who invented the travel mug along with all its continuous progress and mass appeal, we can see what a trail blazer Corey was!  

Can I Customize Travel Mugs to Promote My Business?

Yes, you can, and you’ve come to the right blog post to do so. Below are some top picks for promotional travel mugs. We picked three, and each one addresses one of the three most important considerations when picking a personalized travel mug to customize: budget, top-notch functionality, and high style. 

Budget: For a price point that meets smaller budgets or mass distribution where your target price per piece is lower, we like the 22 oz Travel Mug. Its large capacity, sturdy handle, and push-on lid are well-suited for days working from the road, cramming for finals, tailgating before the big game, or road tripping with pals.  

Functionality: When your goal is to show customers and employees they matter the most, while ensuring your brand looks its best all around town, the 40 oz. Intrepid Stainless Steel Travel Mug won’t let you or your recipients down.  

High Style: Want your brand to be best dressed in any setting? Pick the Swig Life™ 18 oz. Wanderlust Stainless Steel Travel Mug and you’re the belle of the ball—or Zoom call, or conference room or car cupholder.  

Will Travel Mug History Include Your Small Business?

If the past 50 years is any indication, travel mugs are here to stay. They are a common site anywhere folks want to have a drink handy, including cars, commuting, work, school, sports, travel, and more. Add your logo or ad message to the travel mug that suits your style, event, and budget!  


  1. https://www.dontwasteyourmoney.com/best-insulated-cup/
  1. https://www.nytimes.com/1989/01/05/garden/commuting-have-mug-will-travel.html
Karleen Wise Andersen

From marketing tips to product recommendations, I’m here to help small businesses be their best.

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