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The "We Are Happy To Serve You" Cup Story

Every city needs a symbol

In its coffee cup, New York has something that’s both genuinely unique and almost timeless. This humble coffee cup is one of the things that makes New York, New York.

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 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.

Currently, hundred of thousands of them are carried out of New York delis full of hot coffee! Due to the vast number of them, the length of time they have been around and New Yorkers' appreciation for their design, the cup has come to be a quintessential New York icon. It is very likely the world's most famous coffee cup!

The I LOVE NY Cup Story:

“I did the bloody thing in 1975 and I thought it would last a couple of months as a promotion and disappear.”
-Milton Glaser.

The most successful effort to "brand" the state of New York came during the final moments of the state's fiscal crisis in the 1970's. Crime was rampant and, then as now, the state's coffers were empty. Businesses (and their employees) were leaving in droves. Fear permeated perceptions of the state, and tourism was suffering. New York had lost much of its glamorous allure, and the state of New York turned to Madison Avenue for help. The state commissioned the ad agency Well, Rich and Greene and graphic artist Milton Glaser to develop a campaign, and the I [heart] NY slogan was born. Its goal: to promote tourism.

One of the most familiar cultural icons of the past half century, the I LOVE NEW YORK rebus, designed by the renowned Milton Glaser, almost didn't happen. In 1975, the New York Commerce Commission asked Glaser to create a suitable logo for a public relations campaign aimed at countering New York's reputation for being a crime-ridden, dirty and hostile place to visit. Told that the slogan was "I Love New York," Glaser originally came up with a typographic solution- "two lozenge shapes containing the words 'I love' in one and 'New York' in the other," he reveals. The design was quickly approved by the State Commerce Commission and on its way to being reproduced on everything from billboards to coffee mugs.

That would have been the end of this pro bono assignment, but a week after the design was approved, Glaser says he happened to be "doodling in a cab and another idea suggested itself." He called Bill Doyle, the then-assistant commissioner of commerce, and told him, "I have a better idea."

As Glaser recalls it, Doyle said, "Oh please! Forget it. Do you know how complicated it would be to get everybody together to approve it again?" But Glaser persisted, asking Doyle to just stop by to take a look. Doyle reluctantly came down to Glaser's studio. Glaser remembers that he merely "nodded and took away the new sketch." But shortly after, Doyle reconvened a meeting of the commerce commissioners and the now famous design was approved.

Since 1975, Glaser's "second" logo has appeared on millions of items sold in New York. It's become a favorite tourists' memento of their trip to the Empire State.

I Loe New York coffe cup

Milton Glaser's Biography:

To many, Milton Glaser is the embodiment of American graphic design during the latter half of the 20th century. His presence and impact on the profession internationally is formidable. Immensely creative and articulate, he is a modern renaissance man — one of a rare breed of intellectual designer-illustrators, who brings a depth of understanding and conceptual thinking, combined with a diverse richness of visual language, to his highly inventive and individualistic work. *

Born in 1929, Milton Glaser was educated at the High School of Music and Art and the Cooper Union art school in New York and, via a Fulbright Scholarship, the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, Italy. He co-founded the revolutionary Pushpin Studios in 1954, founded New York Magazine with Clay Felker in 1968, established Milton Glaser, Inc. in 1974, and teamed with Walter Bernard in 1983 to form the publication design firm WBMG. Throughout his career, Glaser has been a prolific creator of posters and prints. His artwork has been featured in exhibits worldwide, including one-man shows at both the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His work is in the permanent collections of many museums. Glaser also is a renowned graphic and architectural designer with a body of work ranging from the iconic logo to complete graphic and decorative programs for the restaurants in the World Trade Center in New York. Glaser is an influential figure in both the design and education communities and has contributed essays and granted interviews extensively on design. For the past 50 years, he has taught at the School of Visual Arts. Among many awards throughout the years, he received the 2004 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, for his profound and meaningful long-term contribution to the contemporary practice of design. This year, in 2010, he received the National Metal of the Arts, becoming the first graphic designer to receive the award.

* Excerpted from CSD, August/September, 1999 — "Milton Glaser: Always One Jump Ahead" by Patrick Argent