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The invention of the bendy straw

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2018

In September of 1937, Joseph Friedman was awarded a U.S. Patent for a “drinking tube” with a flexible neck, aka the bendy straw.

Bendy Straw Patent

My invention provides a flexible portion in the straw positioned near one end so that a bend may be made at a point above the rim or lip of the container and the upper, or mouthpiece end of the straw may then be angularly directed to enter the mouth readily without the customer assuming an awkward position.

Derek Thompson describes the moment of inspiration and subsequent experimentation that led to the bendy straw’s invention:

Half a century after Marvin Chester Stone found grass in his julep, Joseph B. Friedman was sitting at his brother’s fountain parlor, the Varsity Sweet Shop, in the 1930s, watching his little daughter Judith fuss over a milkshake. She was drinking out of a paper straw, so we can be assured that the milkshake did not taste like grass. But since Stone’s paper straw was designed to be straight, little Judith was struggling to drink it up.

Friedman had an idea. As the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center explains, he brought a straw to his home, where he liked to tinker with inventions like “lighted pencils” and other newfangled writing equipment. The straw would be a simple tinker. A screw and some string would do.

Friedman inserted a screw into the straw toward the top (see image). Then he wrapped dental floss around the paper, tracing grooves made by the inserted screw. Finally, he removed the screw, leaving a accordion-like ridge in the middle of the once-straight straw. Voila! he had created a straw that could bend around its grooves to reach a child’s face over the edge of a glass.

Both straws and corrugated tubing had long existed, but no one thought to put them together until Friedman’s malt shop eureka.