Throwback Thursday: A brief history of the drinking straw: Page 4 of 5

Image courtesy Roadsidepictures/

In the 1930s, serial inventor Joseph B. Friedman was watching his young daughter, Judith, struggle with a straw as she tried to sip a milkshake at a soda fountain in San Francisco. There had to be a better way, thought Friedman.

Writing for the Atlantic, Derek Thompson describes what happens next in “The Amazing History and Strange Invention of the Bendy Straw.” “Friedman inserted a screw into the straw toward the top. Then he wrapped dental floss around the paper, tracing grooves made by the inserted screw. Finally, he removed the screw, leaving an 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.”

Freidman established the Flex-Straw Co. in 1939. Soda fountains were not his first customers, however. That distinction rests with hospitals, where patients were still using rigid, not to mention breakable, glass tubes. “Nurses realized that bendy straws could help bed-ridden patients drink while lying down,” recounts Thompson. “Solving the ‘Judith problem’ had created a multi-million dollar business.”

Next: One word . . . plastic.

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