Sips upon the straw

drinking straw history

Sipping on that bottle of Coca Cola to beat the summer heat is sure an instance of universality resonating therefore with many but along the same ambit of popularity it also is the particular way of using a straw to finish off that bottle of soda that makes for an experience not just more refreshing but quite interesting as well. For science has established that drinking your (icy) cold beverage through one of those colorful straws of unenvironmental notoriety however indeed ups the taste of them and in a premise very simple in explanation. But we are here today not to discover the scientific basis of working of these humble yet multiutilitarian drinking straws that however also rest on the perplexing notion of being not really needed at all. Our intention instead is to sip on some of the history regulating the existence and popularity of these notable utensils of drinking importance as well as much touted materials of artsy and crafty ventures.

The first straws of the world weren’t so modern to have been made out of plastic since the convenient practicality of them were worked out be people as early as the Sumerians to facilitate their pursuits in beering. Their need though wasn’t anything very fancy or stirred by some exciting prospect in drinking like what us modern day earthlings thirst for but was instead a need created out of the impracticality of glugging out their share from those large vats of brewing, solved thus by the invention of long straws they used to drink straight from the container, all of them at once as they sat upon the floor.

The another needful realisation that spurred this Mesopotamian spark in creativity was lent also a genius way indeed of not letting the solid particles sitting at the bottom of their drink churned out through the process of fermentation disrupt or disturb their almost hedonic indulgence. In fact so hedonic indeed would be that experience sought to be entailed out of straws that even the make of them would be derived out of something esteemed in the glow of pretty purposeful preciousness!

That is exactly what seeps through the hollow tube of the oldest extant drinking straw of the world, a specimen in gold with the precious blues of lapis lazuli decking up the span and length of its inner girth. This Sumerian discovery in a tomb however is often disputed by the Maykop culture’s use of some similar such metal equipment, also widely claimed as the first ever usage of this as non- important as it is important piece of drinking utensil cum accessory. Complemented also by accounts of the Egyptian pharaohs using ’em straws, albeit not in their first known case, and the history of the drinking straw is one almost as ancient as civilisation itself.

And indeed, this specific significance of the straw still isn’t one only rested in generality. That is to say, even these equipment of allowing one’s mouth more than easy an access to the fluids of consumption, whether life saving or of gourmet prominence, have also taken other forms and shapes not so commonly attributed to them. Asserting as the bombilla is one such model that is specifically meant to sip mate tea through, bearing also a filter within to even more efficiently combat the unwanted debris from ruining the drinking experience. Despite their metal essence, with silver being the most popular choice for those who can afford them even when these are more susceptible to the burning propensities of heat borne by the liquid, it also are cane and straw makes that cater to the equally esteemed needs of the not so esteemed themselves.

yerba mate bombilla
Source: Biomate

But while the bombilla is traditional indeed a necessity of the South American yerba mate ceremony, that still is a specialty rather recent. It has been only sometime in the 16th or 17th century that this variant of the drinking straw found sipping through. Prior to that and much like the Mesopotamians’ communal strawing upon their barley beer, it had been the Chinese as well as the Americans who finds context in the drinking device’s history with their partaking of the custom in consumption of rice wine and corn chica respectively.

The modern manifestation of the straw does not go any further than the 1800s- that period of its development endowing upon it an essence not just more commonplace but also etymologically distinct. By that time, it wasn’t metal straws doing the rounds at community drinking gatherings; the premise instead had shifted in both manners of convention as individual drinking practices got hold of the human much excited by the idea in intoxication and the hardness of metal made way for the much flexible essence of grasses to pass off as drinking equipment. And thus the 19th century saw an emergence to fame of the rye straws that however quickly proved to be not so conducive to the purpose at hand. But while their inconvenience meant that these grass straws wilted away real quick they sure did their due in having the successors of their kind embrace this strawed identity in calling.

With the cut hollow stems of the cereal grass rye- or even wheat in some cases- making up these then common straws of the time, it wasn’t anything very unnatural that the resultant ‘product’ would also come to be commonly known as a straw in following indeed the description of what catered to dried stalks of grain or grass. That lending of their identity to them however did not ensure that these grassy or grainy straws would manage to uphold their significance in the ensuing times with the most important aspect of functionality seriously compromised when actually attending to the intended uses of them.

Being grasses indeed in the first place meant that these straws would become very soggy when left in the beverage, or worse even lose their own and disintegrate into them, ruining therefore the drink itself and of course the experience of it. Particularly with rye straws, the disadvantage was even appalling since they tended also to leave their residues in the beverage as well as affect the taste of them. This meant that straws of these build and make and kind would lose out very soon on their popularity that however was rather far flung and eminent during its heytime.

The 19th century phenomenon that these rye straws were was an account furthered in popularity in their coming to receive attention from the prolific writer Charles Dickens. Introduced to this novelty in his American exploration and intrigued enough by the idea to lend it expression in words of course in his own characteristic flair, the British wizard of story weaving let his own fancied strawing experience take upon the world leading it thus along a path of fame before its eventual detour into the perishing world of doom.

That doom would have anyway dawned sometime rather imminently but for the papery pursuit of one American Marvin Stone and the precise year in advancement for the straw would be that of 1888 when the first ever patent was filed to that effect. It had been his own ‘test tasting’ of the rye straw- quite literally when he found his flavorful concocting of mint julep ‘encroached’ upon by the essence of what he was attempting to enjoy it through that stirred him to not very quick but efficient still action in crafting a straw out of manilla paper. What followed thus was much swifter a course in happening though with Stone’s company named Stone Industrial mass producing them commercially as early as in 1890.

Stone’s idea indeed was very ‘fluid’ a dynamics in working, which he achieved by wounding paraffin coated paper around a pencil to make a tube and then glue the strip after sliding the pencil out. Of course, he drew from his profile as an worker in the cigarette industry to effect this then maverick of an invention, innovating even further to build a machine that would seal the straw with wax since an use of glue would be susceptible to dissolving in bourbon, risking therefore a similar such fate as its rye predecessor. But even in all his attention to the nuances and intricacies of what could possibly suck in the straw into the liquid instead of it being used to suck out that beverage, Stone still did not quite manage to foresee another convenience expected out of what would come to be a really popular invention real quick.

That opening up of additional opportunity would be grabbed by another American inventor Joseph Friedman who discovered the loophole upon seeing his daughter struggle with the straight, uncomplicated paper straw. What Friedman did to effectively counter this problem was inserting a screw into the existing design of the straw and wrapping floss around the grooves before taking out the screw, much like Stone did with the pencil but with such dimension added upon the straw that made it indented. Finding therefore a new found flexibility that led straws to be bendable without breaking off, the still prevailing Bendy straw emerged in the 1930s, the commercialisation of which was taken forward by Friedman’s Flexi-straw company since 1939.

It was also by that time during the period of the Second World War that plastic straws would be doing the rounds with glasses and bottles. In fact Flexi- straw mass produced plastic variants of the bendable straws ushering in thus another new era of expression for the first metal, then grass, then paper and now finally plasticised device of sipping upon drinks at leisure. Instantly taking over the world in all range of the sheer functionality and practicality and convenience and affordability of what plastic presented itself as, it indeed would be plastic straws that would come to be the norm all over for the rest of the 20th century and also some considerable number of years indeed of the 21st century as well before they began to face the backlash in a deceitful almost assuming of non existent purpose. Of course the purpose was very much created by fast food giants and consumer goods producers who introduced cans and cups and cartons and what not designed such to facilitate the consumption of their contents with a straw built into their designs.

And yet even in their ultimate falling from grace, brought about by that same material of what had afforded them immense popularity in the first place, plastic straws still are versatile indeed in the range of their use eked out through easy shaping of them to fit and feed into custom needs. Take for instance the spoon straw or the stroon that comes with a spoon like tip at the bottom for eating the slushy after drinking it up. Also relevant are the stir straws, generally shorter and narrower, meant to stir indeed substances into beverages like tea or coffee. Crazy straws, or silly straws on the other hand serve more amusing purposes as well, with a number of twists and turns incorporated into their body to entertain kids and are surprisingly not very recent a development as well, patented as early as in 1936.

crazy straw
Source: Amazon.in

Cut to more contemporary times and the plastic prevalence of the drinking straw are losing out on their colorful sheen. Thus reusable and biodegradable materials are increasingly being used to prepare drinking straws so as to not let the world lose out on the possible ‘potential’ that in fact is created rather than innate. Whatever that might be, natural alternatives like wood and bamboo are increasingly explored as is the early experience gained by the metal but what strikes still as a masterstroke of geniusness indeed out of this entire scouting of what would be the most suitable of straws is the edible straw. Whether they be made out of rice or seaweed or even rye or take instead the form of flavoured straws that are meant to be ‘released’ into beverages, particularly milk since they are meant for children, edible straws perhaps are the closet humankind can come to truly make merry in simultaneous eating and drinking. And all that availed out of the hollowness of a humble piece of straw indeed!