Tasteful Inventions: Bending Straws with Joseph B. Friedman

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bending Straws with Joseph B. Friedman

Back in January of this year we celebrated Drinking Straw Day at Months of Edible Celebrations. It just so happens, today is another day in drinking straw history. On September 28, 1937, patent number 2,094,268 was issued to Joseph Bernard Friedman for his new invention, under the title Drinking Tube. Curious?

My invention relates to drinking tubes and more particularly to that type of drinking tube known in the trade as a "soda straw" which, while sometimes actually made from a straw, is usually wound or otherwise formed from oiled paper, paraffin paper, Cellophane, or the like. The main object of my invention is to provide a soda straw or similar drinking tube with a flexible section so positioned that the tube may be bent during use without substantially reducing the diameter of the straw.

The "flexible straw" invention and drawings are available at google patents online. Aren't they just amazing? Who was Joesph Bernard Friedman? Why did he create such a relatively simple yet useful innovation?

Joseph B. Friedman

I doubt Joseph Friedman woke up one morning and decided to invent the bendable straw. He may have been doodling it for years considering his flexible version of the beverage straw was not his first invention. No dear visitors, although Friedman would later obtain two additional U.S. patents and three foreign ones in the 1950s related to its formation and construction, the flexible straw was only one of a number of inventions Friedman had developed or had begun the process of developing. Like Mattie Knight, "Mother of the Grocery Bag" Joseph Friedman began his inventing career at a pretty early age.

...This was not Friedman’s first invention. In 1915, when he was 14, the Cleveland native had come up with the “pencilite,” for writing in the dark. He offered to license his invention to a manufacturer if it would pay the patent-application fees. The company did not accept his offer but, evidently unaware of his age, expressed an interest in his inventive abilities. He received his first patent in 1922, for an ink gauge for fountain pens. In the 1930s he sold this invention to the Sheaffer Pen Company. By then he had moved to California and started a family. To support his wife and four children, he worked briefly as an optometrist but primarily as a real estate broker...excellent source

Lucky for us, the family of this hard working part time optician, real estate, insurance salesman, and inventor saved many of the papers and artifacts of his career. In 2001, they were donated by his family to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History which has an excellent article titled The Straight Truth About the Flexible Drinking Straw available online at the Lemelson Center.

Resources 1. Drinking Straw Day 2. Grasping at Straws 3. Mattie Knight 4. Got Chocolate Milk Straws?