Everyday Objects

Bendy Straws


Straws, not something you spend much of your valuable time thinking about, I bet. But did you know that straws are incredibly old – much, much, much older than your gran.

In fact, straws date as far back as 5,000 years ago, when the Ancient Sumerians (one of the first societies to brew beer – nice!) made straws from precious metals. They used these straws to slurp up the beer without swallowing any of the nasty gunk left after during the beer-making; another win for drunk problem-solving!

But we didn’t get the bendy straw until a bloke named Joseph Friedman invented them in the 1930s. The story goes that Friedman, noticing his daughter was too small to drink her milkshake through a straight straw, had a brainwave. Friedman slapped a screw into the straw, tied floss around the screw’s dents, and then took the screw out – meaning the straw could bend without breaking.

Because a good idea is nothing if it’s not paid for, Friedman immediately filed a patent for his bendy straw, creating the Flex-Straw Company to sell straws to the public. Although the straws were first advertised for children, they were soon used in hospitals, and later became a staple everywhere. Sorry kids, you can’t keep everything for yourself.

Nowadays the bendy straw is falling out of fashion as they’re usually made of plastic, and we’re becoming a bit better (I hope?) at thinking up ways on how not to destroy our planet. Instead we’re seeing a shift towards using straight, cardboard straws – the ones that turn to mush in your mouth – and metal straws – the ones that hurt when you sip a hot drink. So we have to ask the question: how is this affecting people who need to use a bendy straw? Maybe one day we’ll find another clever chap like Friedman who’ll give us the answer to our problem. If you have a banging idea for a new kind of straw, call anyone you like… but don’t call us.

Words by Quinn Clark
Research by Stephanie Crowe
Illustration by Noni Farragher-Hanks