A cup holder in automobiles is not a new concept; in fact we have become so used to them in our cars that imagining a drive without them would leave a lot to desire. But this was not always the case. There was a time when they were considered just another non-essential accessory for mere decorative purposes.
The blame for this late surge in popularity lies primarily with inadequate suspension technology in cars and rather poor conditions of the roads. The bone jarring experience of driving in earlier days did not gel with the idea of a cola sipping long drive.
The necessity of cup holders first arose with the increase in popularity of drive-in restaurants and theatres. Initially they were mere temporary arrangements in form of trays hooked on to the side windows of cars. Then someone had the brainwave of modifying the lids of glove compartments so they can balance the beverage cups in the indentations provided in the lid. Although this solved the problem for parked vehicles, the dream of quenching the thirst with a cold soda on a hot desert road remained just that; a dream. These make shift arrangements prevented the sliding of cups but still in a moving car, liquid spilled frequently.
Even with improvements later on, the cup holders failed to satisfy both the aesthetic and utility requirements. They were generally attached to the inside of car doors. Apart from severely reducing the leg space, they were also vulnerable to occasional slamming of doors which without fail resulted in a messy floor mat of the car. Of course, with time and technology the design has also evolved. The present generation cup holders are generally equipped to hold securely cups of all sizes. A popular method to achieve this is to use spring loaded holders which clasp onto the cups irrespective of their size.
The development path of cup holders has not been constant world over. European cars were pretty late to catch on to the cup holder mania. The only reason is the stark difference of culture. Drive-ins, the prime catalyst for cup holder development never became that popular in Europe. Of course with today’s shrinking world and globalized markets which cater to international clientele such differences have been reduced in cars.
No one claims that the cup holders today are perfect specimens with no scope of improvement. I think to sum it up; we can safely bet our money on automobile giants to continuously strive to achieve that perfection.