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    Paper cup innovator dies at 83

    John O'Keefe Mullen's son says he was a man who prized facts and precision and who loved the sea.

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 17, 2002

    John O'Keefe Mullen, one of the inventors of the plastic-lined paper cup, died Sunday (July 14, 2002) from lung cancer. He was 83.

    Born March 13, 1919, in New Haven, Conn., Mr. Mullen came to Tampa in 1956. Thirty years later, he retired to Lido Key, Sarasota, where he died.

    As an engineer, Mr. Mullen worked with Continental Can Co., formerly located in Connecticut, to invent the machinery and process that created the plastic-lined paper cup, said his son, Mark McNally Mullen.

    The plastic film that coats the inside of the cup prevents the cup from becoming soggy and weak, says the patent.

    "He enjoyed fact and precision," said Mark Mullen. "He was a man of great logic and he prided himself on having the most accurate wristwatch in the group."

    Mr. Mullen served in the Navy and was chief engineer on the USS Jeffers during the D-Day invasion of Normandy during World War II. He retired as a commander after 25 years of military service. Mark Mullen said that his father enjoyed time on and around the sea.

    Mr. Mullen graduated from Yale University with a master's degree in engineering in 1940. In 1941, he was appointed head of the Department of Marine Engineering at the University of Tampa.

    In 1956, Mr. Mullen married Ann McNally and the couple moved to Tampa.

    Mr. and Mrs. Mullen later established Mullen Religious Supplies, which grew into the largest supplier of church goods for the Southeast United States and the Caribbean.

    Thirty years later, Mr. and Mrs. Mullen retired to Lido Key, Sarasota.

    Mr. Mullen was a member of Sacred Heart Church in Tampa and St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Longboat Key. He was also a member of the Knights of Columbus, Council No. 1 in New Haven. Mr. Mullen's uncle, James T. Mullen, was the first Supreme Knight.

    In addition to his son, Mark, survivors include his wife of 46 years, Ann, Sarasota; three sons, Christopher Arthur Mullen, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, John O'Keefe Mullen Jr., Atlanta, Desmond Patrick Mullen, Chapel Hill, N.C.; a daughter, Kate Ann Mullen, Seattle; and three grandchildren.

    A memorial liturgy will be given on Thursday at St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church on Longboat Key, Sarasota. Arrangements will be provided by Toale Brothers Colonial Chapel, Sarasota.

    In lieu of flowers, the family asked that memorial contributions be made to any charity.

    -- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Olivia Gifford can be reached at 226-3339 or Lea Iadarola can be reached at 226-3321 or

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