The Origin Story of Cupholders in Cars

You don’t know what you have until it’s gone, and for me, that means cupholders. Sure, your average consumer car has them, but more exotic choices for daily drivers like the Lotus Elise skip on them altogether. While the answer seems obvious now, you might be surprised to hear the history of cupholders and how they came to be a standard feature in almost every car on the road.

A surprising start

You may not have given it much thought, but when cars were first released, they didn’t have cupholders. After all, making a trip through the local burger joint’s drive-thru wasn’t a thing back then, but it is weird to think about living in a world where cupholders didn’t come standard in cars. In fact, having cupholders is, perspectively, a newer innovation that we’ve just become accustomed to. In most of our lives, we’ve never known a world where cars didn’t come with cupholders, but up until decades ago, it wasn’t all that common.

The interior of the Nissan Titan
The Nissan Titan has 14 cupholders. | Courtesy of Nissan

The drive-in diner

For many decades cars were mostly used as a luxury, but that all changed when a need for cup storage appeared. We can thank one of the most significant novelties of the 1950s for that: the drive-in diner. While newer drivers might only know of drive-in eateries from classic movies, they were once a pretty big deal. They also made a significant impact in the automotive world because your car was now your seating booth for meals. So, of course, you would need someplace to securely hold your drink. Without intention, these diners were the beginning of the market for cars having built-in cupholders.

2019 Ford F-150 Black Ops Edition center console
2019 Ford F-150 Black Ops Edition center console | Brown Lee Ford

RELATED: These Cars Have More Cupholders Than You’ll Ever Need

The modern-day drive-thru

Drive-in diners were pushed to the back burner as fast food took a new turn. The popularity of drive-thru diners skyrocketed, presenting an even bigger need for you to keep your drink steady. In the late 1950s, Cadillac was the first manufacturer to provide drivers with the option for the first type of cupholders, and as time progressed, the feature changed and became what we know it as today.

The inner details of the 2020 Honda Civic Type R's center armrest
2020 Honda Civic Type R center console | Matthew Skwarczek

RELATED: Car Mods That Aren’t As Cool As You Think

Cupholders might not be the coolest innovation to ever hit the automotive world, but we sure would be struggling without them. And, I guess if you needed to find a way to spin fast food in a more positive light, you could debate that we wouldn’t have cupholders in our cars without it.