Remembering Rutherford, Daily News Journal, December 28, 2014, Gregg Tucker
Popular film stars, Dixie boosted ice cream sales
The Rutherford County Gas & Oil Co. announced in March 1922 that the firm was reincorporating under a new name — Consumers Supply Co. This new business entity had “in course of erection an ice plant of estimated 24-ton daily capacity.” With this new plant at 704 West Main Street, Murfreesboro, the company planned to manufacture and distribute to retailers ice, ice cream and beverages.
The incorporators were Al D. McKnight, M.F. Rubin, N.C. Maney “and others.” The officers included McKnight as president, and Rubin as general manager. A. L. Todd, a major investor, served as the vice president. In 1922 their products were block ice, bottled Chero-Cola and ice cream in bulk containers.
In 1923 the Individual Drinking Cup Co. began merchandising a three-ounce, lidded cup that would not absorb moisture or collapse in the filling process. This new container was designed for ice cream in individual servings that priced at five cents. The containers were sold with customized labeling for each ice cream manufacturer. Consumers Supply was one of the first Southern ice cream plants to use the small containers.
Originally doing business as the Public Cup Vending Co., founded in 1909, this paper-products vendor sold “Health Kups,” but struggled until the post-World War I flu epidemic heightened public concern about the spread of germs. Located in Easton, Pennsylvania, the company was renamed the Individual Drinking Cup Co. in 1919. Their product was renamed and marketed as the “Dixie cup,” and the name soon became a household term. During the Depression years, ice cream was a popular indulgence, and the Consumers Supply Co. sold ice cream in threeounce Dixie cups to every corner market, soda fountain and gas station that had a freezer in Rutherford and surrounding counties.
In an effort to distinguish their container from those of competitors and to increase sales, the cup company in 1933 came up with the idea of placing photographs of Hollywood film stars on the underside of the lids and encouraging collectors by offering a series of popular film star images.
Dixie Cup officials approached Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), one of Hollywood’s most successful studios, and were given permission to use all of
the MGM star images at no cost. The first series of picture lids featured 24 MGM stars including Lionel Barrymore, Jackie Cooper, Joan Crawford, Jimmy Durante, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Helen Hayes, Myrna Loy and Robert Montgomery. (A thin sheet of wax paper was used to separate the picture side of the lid from the cup contents.) The star-studded lids quickly became popular collectibles with both children and adults. Seeing this success, other Hollywood studios offered their star lists and the paper cup promotion became a national fad. Bing Crosby, John Wayne, Bob Hope, Ginger Rogers, Bob Steele, Henry Fonda and dozens of other Hollywood faces appeared on the cup lids. The first Western movie star to be pictured face down on the ice cream in a Dixie cup was Ken Maynard in 1934, but the king of the cowboy lids was Roy Rogers who appeared in 12 different photos.
Consumers Supply took full advantage of the lid fad covering Rutherford and surrounding counties with star-studded lids. This local wholesaler even rode the collecting fad to another level by participating in the “trade-in” program promoted by the cup manufacturer. Consumers Supply offered to give a full-color 8×10 photo of a Hollywood star of choice to anyone who brought 12 cup lids to the wholesale office. They even gave away scrapbooks (“My Scrapbook of STARS”) to encourage collectors.
In 1936 10-year-old Jere Warner was an avid collector in the Westvue community near the Consumers Supply plant and offices. Warner remembers: “Consumers Supply manufactured ice cream in small cups that sold for five cents at stores around Murfreesboro. A wooden spoon came with each cup. The top with the movie stars picture was often discarded at or near the store. I spent many hours riding my bike to stores around town and sorting through trash to find these dirty lids.
“I took the tops home and washed off the dirt and dried ice cream. When I had collected 12 tops, I took them to the ice cream plant and exchanged them for a picture. I eventually had about 60 pictures of my favorite stars. I still have the collection in the scrapbook cover that they gave me at the plant.”
Warner also recalls that one of his Westvue buddies, Stanley Richards, tried to shortcut the collecting process. The city dump in those years was near the ice cream plant. The used cup lids that were turned in (plus new lids damaged at the plant) were marked or cut and discarded. Richards sorted through the dump and found the Consumers Supply discards. But plant management declined to accept the dump salvage in exchange for star pictures.
“The movies were our best and favorite entertainment during those Depression years, and the stars were our heroes,” explains Warner. “I used to
get into the Saturday matinee at the Princess for 11 cents, but when I turned 12 I had to pay 15 cents.” The Individual Drinking Cup Co. in 1943 changed its name to the Dixie Cup Co.. In 1950 Dixie Cup became a division of the American Can Co. which is today a subsidiary of the Fort James Corp. By 1950 the Consumers Supply Co. had evolved into the Consumers Ice Cream Co. and lid collecting had gone the way of most fads. The company closed in 1955, a victim of national brand competition. The old ice cream plant on the northwest corner of West Main and Overall Street in Murfreesboro was demolished.