(row one) rough drawing of the drinking tube, Joseph B. Friedman and his more refined patent drawing; (row two) The Flex-Straw was first marketed to hospitals; In the early 1950’s, Roy Rogers endorsed the Flex-Straw in an ad aimed at kids; (row three) The Flex-Straw infused with strawberry, chocolate and coffee (for mom?); 1940s – 1950s packaging. (other images) These straws were totally made for sharing a beverage with your BFF…or not.
Problem solving and ideas – the “backbone and spirit” of Kowalski Heat Treating – it’s what keeps us on “our game” every single day and what our customers expect from us – solving your pesky PIA (Pain In The @#$) Jobs. As the guy at the top, like most leaders, I get such a charge when my folks come in and say “Steve, we’ve worked on a bunch of different solutions, and we’re pretty sure we got it.” BAM. Just like that, problem solved. And the best part for me is when I get to pick up the phone and call my customers and say – “yep, we figured it out”.
Recently I was reading an article about an inventor who was born in Cleveland back in 1900, and invented, to this day, one of my all-time favorites – the bendy straw. Like so many inventors, he saw a problem (this one happened to be with his daughter and sitting at a soda shop), experimented, came up with a solution, and then went on to prototyping, a patent and manufacturing. So, to fully enjoy this post, make yourself a yummy root beer and ice cream float, (oh yea, one of my favorites), put in a flexible straw, sit back and enjoy the read. I’m not sure about you all, but one of my favorite things is to blow bubbles in the glass – certainly takes me back and Jackie will just shake her head, again! Special thanks to Smithsonian, Wikipedia and the Atlantic Magazine for confirming the facts for me. And thanks Joe for your problem-solving solution – KHT salutes you!
- Historians don’t know what civilization first came up with the idea of sticking tubes into cups and slurping, 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. (BRILLIANT!) In the same tomb, archeologists also found history’s first known straw – a tube made from gold and the precious blue stone lapis lazuli.
- In the 1880’s, gentlemen sipped their whiskey through long tubes made of natural rye that lent a grassy flavor to whatever drink they plopped in. For many centuries, it was not uncommon to order a gin and tonic and wind up drinking it infused with natural grass flavors. Marvin Chester Stone didn’t have much patience when it came to non-mint plants floating around in his mint julep, and did something. He reinvented the straw.
- In his first try, he wound paper around a pencil to make a thin tube, slid out the pencil from one end, and applied glue between the strips. Voila: paper straw! Also: glue? Stone refined it by building a machine to wind paper into a tube and coat the outside with a paraffin wax to keep it from melting in bourbon. He patented the product in 1888. Today, Marvin Chester Stone is considered the godfather of the paper straw.
- Joseph B. Friedman, born October 9, 1900 in Cleveland, Ohio, was a first generation American and the fifth of eight children. An independent American inventor with a broad range of interests and ideas, Friedman is credited with inventing the flexible straw.
- By the age of fourteen, Friedman conceptualized his first invention, the lighted pencil, which he deemed the “pencilite,” and was attempting to market his idea. Over the course of his inventing career, he would experiment with ideas ranging from writingimplements to engine improvements, and household products to sound and optic
- In the 1920s, Friedman began his education in real estateand optometry. He would use both of these careers at different points in his life to supplement his income while improving his invention concepts. Although he was working as a realtor in San Francisco, California, ]the 1930s proved to be his most prolific patenting period, with six of his nine U.S. patents being issued then.
- While sitting in his younger brother Albert’s fountain parlor, the Varsity Sweet Shop in San Francisco, Friedman observed his young daughter Judith at the counter, struggling to drink out of a straight straw. Sitting on the stool, the cool beverage was too high on the counter to reach. Afterwards back home, he took a paper straight straw, inserted a screw and using dental floss, he wrapped the paper into the screw threads, creating corrugations in the straw barrel. After removing the screw, the altered paper straw could now bend conveniently over the edge of the glass, allowing small children to better reach their beverages.
- After fine tuning his approach, U.S. patent #2,094,268 was issued for this new invention under the title Drinking Tube. Friedman would later file and be issued two additional U.S. patents and three foreign patents in the 1950s relating to its formation and construction. In his application, he wrote:
“Applicant has met a problem long existing in the art. A view of any soda fountain on a hot day, with the glasses showing innumerable limp and broken straws drooping over the edges thereof, will immediately show that this problem has long existed. Where we have the conditions where certainly the straw is old, where corrugated tubing is old, and where no inventor, during those years, has seen fit or has been able to solve this problem, whereas applicant did, that situation alone is prima facie evidence of invention.”
–courtesy of the Joseph B. Friedman Papers, 1915 – 2000, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.
- Friedman attempted to sell his straw patent to several existing straw manufacturers beginning in 1937 without success, so after completing his straw machine, he began to produce the straw himself. Friedman’s younger English relative, Michael Fabricant, would later write that his great uncle’s invention was “arguably the most significant technological achievement of the twentieth century”
- On April 24, 1939, The Flexible Straw Corporationwas incorporated. However, World War II interrupted Friedman’s efforts to construct his straw manufacturing machine. During the war, he managed the optometry practice of Arthur Euler, O.D., in Capwells’ Department Store in Oakland, California, and continued to sell real estate and insurance to support his growing family.
- Friedman obtained financial backing for his flexible straw machine from two of his brothers-in-law, Harry Zavin and David Light, as well as from Bert Klein, a family associate. With their financial help, and the business advice of his sister Betty, Friedman completed the first flexible straw manufacturing machine in the late 1940s. Although his original concept had come from the observation of his daughter, the flexible straw was initially marketed to hospitals, with the first sale made in 1947.
- Betty Friedman played a crucial role in the development of the Flexible Straw Corporation. While still living in Cleveland and working at the Tarbonis Company, she corresponded regularly with her brother and directed all of the sales and distribution of the straw. In 1950 Friedman moved his family and company to Santa Monica, California. Now doing business as the Flex-Straw Co., sales continued to increase and the marketing direction expanded to focus more strongly on the home and child markets. Betty Friedman moved west in 1954 to assume her formal leadership role in the corporation.
- On June 20, 1969, the Flexible Straw Corporation sold its United States and foreign patents, United States and Canadiantrademarks, and licensing agreements to the Maryland Cup Corporation, and the Flexible Straw Corporation dissolved in August 1969.