Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A groovy response from the CEO of Whirley-DrinkWorks!

In very cool news, I have received an email from Bob Sokolski, the CEO and "Advisor to the Next Generation" of Whirley-DrinkWorks!, responding to my Plastic Mug Nostalgia post earlier this month. Here's an excerpt from his email:
Hello Chris,

Your blog is very well done and thanks very much for calling it to our attention. ...

The "Hands Off" mug started when I bought the mold at a bankruptcy auction. We added a travel lid and a base with pressure-sensitive tape to attach to car dashboards. That mug was the forerunner to all the refill coffee mug programs in convenience stores. I also firmly believe that it led to all the programs now prevalent for cold drinks in theme parks, water parks and zoos. Whirley dominates that market with all the major theme parks as customers. The program is buy the bottle, get free and/or discounted refills, take home an attractive souvenir -- and come back soon and/or next year.

Whirley is a family business with the next generation firmly entrenched as managers. I am 79 years old and still work a full schedule. Good luck and thanks again.
Sokoloski also sent along historical notes about other products produced by the Warren, Pennsylvania, company. I mentioned the Moo-Cow Creamer in the earlier post. But the company has had some other well-remembered items, too.

Here's the rundown, quoting directly from the fact sheet:
  • 1. The salt-and-pepper dispenser was our original product. We didn’t design it -- the molds were dormant near Boston and we bought them in 1966. It was very successful in the late 1960s and for about eight or nine years thereafter. There are 11 parts. There was an earlier version made around the time of the 1939 New York World’s Fair with glass tubes for the salt and pepper.1
  • 2. The Cow Creamer was our next product. Our chief engineer designed it and it was the most popular of all our early products. We think it was first offered for sale around 1970 and continued in our line until the late 1970s. The original cow has seven parts. Most were brown, some were yellow and a limited number were purple. The yellow cow with a straw hole in the back of the neck was suggested in a letter sent by one of our customers. It was very popular. The original cow was ceramic, probably made in England, with a horizontal shape and an open area in the cow’s back to receive the milk. It also poured through the mouth.
  • 3. The sugar and syrup dispensers came next. They are functional, but were not as popular.
  • 4. All of these products were sold in combination restaurants/gift shops, mainly on the highways leading to Florida and other tourist areas. The selling program worked best when the restaurants used the dispensers on their own tables -- their customers saw and wanted them. When the Interstate Highways displaced the state highways, the business deteriorated and we were forced to discontinue all of these products and redesign our product line. Today, we are best known for many sizes of mugs and sport bottles sold in theme parks, convenience stores, hospitals and for premiums.2
  • 5. We know that our "old" products are sold regularly at many flea markets. There are no plans to ever make them again because of the limited volume potential and the much higher cost of labor today than when the products were first designed.

So much great information! It's clear that I'm not the only one with a sense of nostalgia for these plastic pieces of our cultural history.

I mentioned in the original post that I plunked down my three cents and bought three Whirley plastic mugs at a local used-goods store.3 Well, since the price is so ridiculously reasonable, I have since returned to the store and purchased some more penny plastic mugs. I now give you the Tower of Whirley...

1. These two photos of Whirley salt-and-pepper shakers are from Bonanza.com. As of today, both items are still available for purchase from seller SpaceAgeAntiques. Here's the link for the plain shakers. And here's the link for the tiger shakers.
2. For more on Whirley's history, check out this September 2010 article from The (Warren) Times Observer on the company's 50th anniversary.
3. Megatronix.


  1. I found your posts while searching for these mugs online. I just lost my cup that I'd gotten when the John F. Kennedy had visited Portland ME many years ago. Hopefully someday I'll have your good fortune as I don't like other cups anywhere near as much.

    Bob Charest

  2. I have a USS JFK cv-67 plastic cup

  3. Found on beach in Western Australia after massive beach erosion into sand dunes under 10ft or more....in good condition