The Amazing Story of the World’s Greatest Container for Coffee

Every city needs a symbol. In its coffee cup, New York has something that's both genuinely unique and almost timeless.

When Greek immigrants arrived in New York in the early part of the last century, they brought their coffee culture along with them, giving birth to the city's ubiquitous Greek diners and sidewalk pushcarts. In 1963, the Sherri Cup Company set out to produce a to-go coffee cup that would appeal to the Greek vendors. Marketing director Leslie Buck dreamed up a motif that included blue-and-white colors from the flag of Greece. His customer-friendly message, WE ARE HAPPY TO SERVE YOU, was printed in Greek-style letters, adorned with a trio of steaming, mustard-yellow cups, flanked by ancient "Anthora" urns, and framed with a Greek Key pattern.

No one, before or since, has been able to capture, by accident or design, the city's self-identity. Over nearly half a century, New York has made the improbable cup its own - we have used as many as 15 million of them in a single month. Still so identified with the city, the iconic cups have become standard-issue props on TV shows and motion pictures set in the city. This humble coffee cup is one of the things that makes New York, New York.