A Brief History of the Tervis Tumbler and Why You Need One

Like Merlot, The Price is Right, and the Rainforest Cafe, the Tervis Tumbler is both your grandmother’s favorite thing and a company still very much at it. 

You’ve seen the thick plastic vessels before. Like Tupperware for the extra clumsy,  brought security and insulation to the masses. The cups, especially, function like glassware and koozies all in one, with temperature control managed by a layer of air between two walls.

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Tervis/Facebook

Anybody who has spent time in the South knows the appeal. It’s 90 degrees with 90% humidity and all you want, for God’s sake, is for your glass of water or iced tea or chilled red wine to stay that way. As an added bonus, it would be nice to easily move around with said vessel, as you’re probably going to need to shower or jump in a river multiple times just to stay sane. The Tervis Tumbler is your trusty companion.

Oddly enough, the original technology was created in Detroit just after World War II. But perhaps that’s less strange when you consider the dual purpose of the double-wall insulation: to keep cool things cool for longer and keep warm things warmer for longer. A hot cup of coffee in the Motor City on a January morning is going to fare all the better in a Tervis. The name is a simple portmanteau of the two founders’ surnames, Frank Cotter and G. Howlett Davis.

A big reason for the shift from state novelty to national product was a deal in the mid-1990s. Tervis teamed up with college sports in the first of many athletic licensing arrangements.

The Tervis Tumbler Company came about later, landing in Osprey, Florida (about 10 miles south of Sarasota) in the late 1960s. Here, the vessel became what it is today — the cup of so many Gulf and Atlantic coast states, so often customized with a homespun decal set between the two layers of plastic. Landlocked residents may have their “World’s Greatest Parent” mugs, but shorebirds and SEC tailgaters have their Tervis Tumblers decked out with their initials or a hand-stitched mugshot of their favorite animal.

A big reason for the shift from state novelty to national product was a deal in the mid-1990s. Tervis teamed up with college sports in the first of many athletic licensing arrangements. Suddenly, enjoying a frosty (or hot) beverage emblazoned with the mascot of your alma mater became very easy. Enter deals with the rest of ‘em, from major league sports to Bed Bath & Beyond to Marvel.

In this, the plastic-conscious era of evil straws and unfortunate whales eating their weight in the stuff, Tervis has had to evolve to some degree. It has promoted reusable campaigns and partnered with various advocacy groups. The sizable company of some 900 employees could probably be doing even more but it’s a start, and it’s at least talking about the issue.

Tervis pushes the reusability factor, claiming that the estimated 150,000 million tumblers it has produced since Y2K have prevented well over a billion water bottles from entering the planet as waste. That’s quite an assumption but also another conversation altogether.

We’re here, for now, to talk about the simple wonders of seemingly unbreakable cups that practically enjoy being dropped; the ability to retain ice for way beyond what’s imaginable, even during a heatwave; and the fun of showing up to a barbecue with this bad boy in your custody.

Want your very own Tervis tumbler? Check out their website and pick one up today.

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