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If, like me, you’re a fan of Henry Petrowski’s book The Evolution of Useful Things, or are interested in the history of technology in general, you will probably enjoy Derek Thompson’s quick biography of the ubiquitous plastic drinking straw over at The Atlantic:

Here is a short history of the drinking straw in 30 seconds. Historians don’t know what civilization first came up with the idea of sticking tubes into cups and slurpling, but the earliest evidence of straws comes from a seal found in a Sumerian tomb dated 3,000 B.C. It shows two men using what appear to be straws taking beer from a jar. In the same tomb, archeologists also found history’s first known straw — a tube made from gold and the precious blue stone lapis lazuli.

It’s unlikely that Sumerians created the ur-straw all by themselves. The metal straw Argentinians use to drink mate (sometimes called a bombilla) is known be centuries old, at least. In the 1800s, when the rye grass straw came into vogue, its virtues — cheapness and softness — were also its vices, as it had a tendency to come apart in liquid. There have been two major straw innovations in the last 150 years.

The two innovations Thompson speaks of are, in his view, the invention of the waxed-paper drinking straw by Marvin Chester Stone in 1888, and the invention of the bendy straw. [Thanks, Daniel Kim!]

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I write for MAKE, serve as Technical Editor for MAKE magazine, and develop original DIY content for Make: Projects.


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