Thursday Salute to Originals: The Drinking Straw

Waiting in line for a freshly made smoothie before the workday, there’s little to look at while the smiling smoothie attendant whirls the blender. My eye is drawn to silver jars of drinking straws on the counter, and in between my impulses to grab a handful and bring them back to the office to see how they look backlit, I began to wonder – was there a time in history when these banal items were considered “cutting edge”?

A simple object, drinking straws rely on suction to create atmospheric pressure to draw liquid up the stem. Not only does the simple invention make drinking easier, eliminating many spills, but it can actually help reduce tooth decay and the formation of cavities. Pretty practical, huh?

A brief history: The first man-made straws were used by the Sumerians to drink beer, and served to filter out the solid fermented byproduct material from reaching the mouth. The drinking straw as we know it today was patented by Marvin C. Stone in 1888. The term “patented” is used deliberately, because the drinking straw was really pioneered by the Sumerians, in the form of grass stems. Bendable straws were created in 1937, to make for more convenient use (or just another reason for children to slouch at the dinner table?).

Think of how many variations on the standard drinking straw exist: the spoon straw combination, miniature drinking straws plastered to the side of juiceboxes, color changing straws, twisty straws straws with toys and decorations attached… designs only limited to the imagination!

Skeptical of the necessity of drinking straws in today’s environmentally conscious culture? In Uganda, waste straws are repurposed into woven picnic and prayer mats.

Image Credits: Artnow314, Darwin Bell via Flickr Creative Commons