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The history of the drinking straw

Drinking straws have been in the news a great deal in the last few years for all the wrong reasons. The plastic in them is hard to recycle and they end up floating in the world’s oceans causing an environment timebomb, but did you know that human beings have been using drinking straws for over 5000 years?

Yes, that’s right, the ancient Sumerians were the first to use a small tube to drink liquids when they submerged long, thin metallic tubes into big jars of brewing beer. The Sumerians knew that there were several layers of fermentation going on and it was only the bottom layer that was the tastiest.

It wasn’t however, until 1888 when the paper cigarette manufacturer Marvin Stone had the brainwave of using paper to form a drinking vessel. Admittedly, other people had been using rye straw’s to drink liquids, but it was Stone who created a product that immediately became a hit. He patented his idea in 1890 and began to manufacture paper drinking straws on a commercial scale.

Another forty years would pass before the next innovation in the drinking straw story emerged, that of bendy straws. This time another inventor by the name of Joseph Friedman has been credited with its invention. At the time Friedman had watched as his daughter struggled to drink her milkshake using a conventional paper drinking straw and he created a way to add a kink in the middle.

In 1937, the problem of tearing the paper straw when you moved it was solved by adding a screw in the middle to make the paper that bit stronger. In the 1960s the miracle product plastic was being used to replace paper drinking straws everywhere. Now fifty years later we are shifting back to paper products which are less harmful to the natural environment than the plastic drinking straw.

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