A lot of people would be surprised to learn how many choices went into that cup of coffee they're buying. If you're going to follow the history of disposable coffee cups, you have to begin with the history of disposable water cups.
That story begins at the beginning of the 20th century with a man named Lawrence Luellen. Since the end of the Civil War, plain old drinking water had become increasingly popular, thanks to the growth of the temperance movement. Temperance activists had dotted cities with water fountains and traveled from bar to bar in temperance wagons, offering water as a healthy alternative to beer or liquor. Whether people drank water from a barrel, they passed around a cup of metal, wood, or ceramic.
The communal cup was literally a bucket of water that people would dip out of. If you don't know about germs, then that's an OK solution.
However, more and more people were learning about the germ theory of disease. Luellen, who invented a paper cup—almost more of a paper bag which could be thrown away after use. He called it the Health Cup. In recent years, the two themes that seem to have emerged in coffee-cup design are conscientious and experiential.