Inside the history of Mardi Gras cups

cup801.jpg

A story from The Times-Picayune of Feb. 11, 1982, on the history of the cup

By the late 1970s, Carnival krewes were looking beyond beads to come up with new throws to enchant parade-goers. In 1980, they hit upon one that stuck. That was the year the commemorative plastic cup was first thrown from a float.

It was on the afternoon of Feb. 10, 1980, on the West Bank, presumably at or near Oakwood Shopping Center, that the cups first appeared, according to an account two years later. There was a chill in the air -- the temperature was in the upper 30s or low 40s. But it didn't matter; thousands of people lined Terry Parkway, Gen. de Gaulle Drive and other streets for the Krewe of Alla parade.

"Krewe members themselves added a novel touch this year with a new favor for the crowds in addition to the customary beads and doubloons," wrote The Times-Picayune the next day in its story about the parade through Algiers and Gretna.

"The new item was a plastic Krewe of Alla drinking cup, which sparked as many under-float scuffles in its first year as time-tested doubloons."

A story from Feb. 11, 1980, on the Alla parade.

A story from Feb. 11, 1980, on the Alla parade.

But did the Carnival go-cup really debut at Alla? Three decades later, it's hard to say for sure. The Alla parade, whose theme was "Once Upon a Time," reportedly began rolling an hour after its 1 p.m. start time. The Krewe of Rhea, which also threw cups that first year, was scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m. in Metairie. So if the Alla parade began at 2 and Rhea began at 1:30 ...

At any rate, the cups were the brainchild of Corrado Giacona, a New Orleans native who graduated from St. Aloysius and the University of New Orleans, according to a 1982 story in The Times-Picayune.

"I wanted to create something special for Mardi Gras, something other than doubloons and the trinkets that are thrown off the floats, something that is reusable as well as artistic," Giacona said. He told the paper that his company spent two years designing and setting up the production of cups. They began to roll off the line in 1979.

Three krewes threw a total of about 300,000 plastic cups during Carnival in 1980; Bacchus got into the cup game a week after Alla and Rhea. By 1982, more than 25 krewes were using cups, many of them equipped with lids, made by Giacona's company.

"Beautiful and sturdy Carnival cups, added to the Mardi Gras revelry a few years ago, have become one of the most popular collector's items -- second only to doubloons," wrote The Times-Picayune in 1982.