Want a Standard for American Excellence? Look No Further Than the Dixie Cup

I propose making the humble Dixie Cup, this marvel of workmanship and serviceability, a standard of excellence in our institutions and our daily lives.
Want a Standard for American Excellence? Look No Further Than the Dixie Cup
Take-away coffee cups are displayed alongside a coffee machine in Sydney on April 20, 2010. (Greg Wood/AFP via Getty Images)
Jeff Minick

American know-how and technology are in trouble these days.

A Boeing 737 lost a door-sized section of its fuselage from one of its planes in flight, one of a number of mechanical issues recently faced by this aerospace titan. The electric vehicles touted just a decade ago have proven a bust, what with their 1,000-pound lithium batteries that are all too fallible and have a propensity to burst into flames. The Gaza pier functioned for less than two weeks before it ended up wrecked on a beach, a victim of the weather.

A slide away from excellence seems now to be a hallmark of many American institutions. The reputations of some of the nation’s finest schools are tarnished, our legal system no longer delivers justice, our health care is a mess, public schools in cities such as Baltimore and Chicago are failing to give students even a basic education, and major corporations have foolishly offended their customer base.

A simple example of our present-day ineptitude can be found in our coffee shops and convenience stores. Buy a hot beverage in these establishments, and all too often you’ll find that the lid doesn’t fit the disposable cup. Why engineers and manufacturers can’t produce a lid that works for the cup for which it was designed, I don’t know, but there it is. After pushing, twisting, and turning, the plastic lid is often so impossible to force into place that we throw it in the trash.

Which brings us to the 12 oz. Dixie to Go hot beverage cup.

Put the lid on one of these babies, and the two parts audibly snap together. No fuss, no bother: they bond as if glued. They keep your hot coffee or tea warmer longer than an ordinary mug. Moreover, you can reuse the cups until they fall apart, and the lids seem indestructible.

Delighted by finding a product that actually works, I asked my grown children for a case of these cups for my last birthday. Instead, one of my sons had three cases delivered to me, 396 cups—I ordered a sleeve of lids separately—which means that these little marvels of engineering will be holding my morning coffee for the next two or three years.

There are other reasons to laud these Dixie cups.

They are made in America, specifically in Lexington, Kentucky.

In fact, they once played a major role in American history. Invented in 1907 by Lawrence Luellen of Boston, paper cups were a novelty that only caught on big time during the 1918 flu epidemic. In an age when many people were still sharing a dipper for drinking in places such as schools and railway stations, Luellen’s small disposable cups saved lives. By the 1950s, many American households had Dixie Cup dispensers in their kitchens.

Moreover, while they look like foam, the Dixie cups I purchased are made of paper, a renewable resource.

Perhaps most importantly, the Dixie Cup does its job without show or fuss. It fulfills its function. In short, it works.

We are a country that once prided itself on its can-do attitude, innovation, and competence. During World War II we built thousands of ships. For decades after that war, we boasted the world’s finest university system. In the past 100 years, Americans mass-produced automobiles, built an interstate highway system, made Hollywood movies popular worldwide, and put men on the moon and an inexpensive computer into the pockets of people around the globe.
“Be a yardstick of quality,” goes a quote attributed to Steve Jobs of Apple Computer fame. “Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

For a good while now, however, America has misplaced that yardstick of quality and expected excellence.

It’s time to aim again at merit and distinction in all we do. I propose making the humble Dixie Cup, this marvel of workmanship and serviceability, a standard of excellence in our institutions and our daily lives. The Dixie Cup gets the job done. We can do the same.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust On Their Wings,” and two works of nonfiction, “Learning As I Go” and “Movies Make The Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va.