Bendy Straws

The Sumerians are the earliest known culture to use a tube for drinking. A seal found within a 5,000 year old tomb shows two men drinking beer using a long stalk of some sort. But it was not until the 1930s that bendy straws would make their debut.

The impression of a cylinder seal from about 2600 BCE.
The impression of a cylinder seal from about 2600 BCE.

Joseph B. Friedman was a tinkerer and inventor. Seeing his daughter, Judith, struggle to finish her milkshake, he decided to experiment. The straw (made of waxed paper) was straight, making it taller on the counter than many children could reach. His solution involved only a screw and dental floss. By wrapping a string around the screw (placed inside the straw), he created bendable ridges!

Joseph Friedman
Joseph Friedman

On September 28, 1937, Friedman was granted a patent on his drinking tube (later gaining two more patents on their production). After first trying to sell the patent unsuccessfully, he went into business himself with the Flexible Straw Corporation in 1939. But things didn’t take off quickly. With World War II on the rise, Friedman focused on sustaining his family until the late ’40s.

An early sketch by Friedman from the Smithsonian Design Museum
An early sketch by Friedman from the Smithsonian Design Museum

In 1947, the first flexible straw was sold at market. Specifically, sold to a hospital. An obvious market existing for people unable to otherwise drink from a cup. This bit of design for those with disabilities may also be one of the earliest examples of what is now called “universal design“. Though Friedman sold his patents in 1969 and died in 1982, his impact on the world of drinking straws is not forgotten.

The original US patent #2094268
The original US patent #2094268

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