An eye for an i #418 Children

Stone paper s̶c̶i̶s̶s̶o̶r̶s̶ straws

How do you drink your beverages, irrespective of whether they are hot or cold? Do you take swigs directly off the glass or bottle, or do you take your time and sip it slowly, using a straw for good measure? If you draw straws to sip your drinks, or even just for picking lots, you are bound to like this one.

The credit for inventing the first paper straws goes to American Marvin C. Stone. Stone was born in 1842 to Chester Stone, an inventor himself, and Rachel. He started to pursue a degree after high school when the Civil War broke out in 1861.

Serves in Civil War

Stone enlisted into service and fought gallantly, but was wounded and disabled from active duty in the Battle of Lookout Mountain. He enrolled as a music major after the war, but eventually graduated in theology. Following his marriage and years as a newspaper journalist, Stone’s inventive spirit shone through when he took to business.

Stone paper s̶c̶i̶s̶s̶o̶r̶s̶ straws

His business life in the late 1870s began when he invented a machine for making paper cigarette holders. His experience with making these holders and his eye for a solution to an everyday problem, led Stone to the first paper straws.

Not the “rye” way

Stone recognised that even though using natural materials such as rye grass and reeds to make straws were popular, they had serious shortcomings. When consuming beverages using these straws, they not only added an additional flavour or taste, but also some unpleasant odour. To add to this, the grass and reeds were also prone to cracking or growing musty.

By winding strips of paper around a pencil and gluing it together, Stone had his first prototypes ready. What followed was more experimenting to make his straws more conducive for drinking.

Stone used paraffin-coated manila paper to ensure that the straws didn’t become too soggy when drinking. He also settled upon 8.5 inches as the ideal length of a straw with a diameter that was just wide enough to prevent things such as lemon seeds from lodging inside and clogging the tube.

An advertisement for Stone’s straws (left) and his photograph (above).

An advertisement for Stone’s straws (left) and his photograph (above).   | Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Stone received the patent for his paper straws on January 3, 1888. Within a couple of years, Stone’s factory was producing more straws than cigarette holders. By 1896, he had patents for a machine that made artificial straw from paper. He wasn’t around to see his machines go into production in 1906, however, as he died in 1899. The success of these machines brought an end to the hand-winding process.

A kind boss

Apart from being an inventor and tinkerer, Stone was seen as a benevolent boss. A kind and generous employer, Stone looked after the comfort and moral welfare of his employees, which included female workers. The factory was equipped with a singing room and a dance floor, with a library and a meeting room for debates to boot.

The winding process that Stone pioneered with his straws had implications in other industries as well. When electrical engineers employed spiral-wound tubes for radios as they were mass-produced for the first time in the 1920s, they used a similar process. From electrical motors and apparatus to aerospace, textiles and packaging for medicine and other products, the spiral-wound tubing is now found almost everywhere.

The next time you are sipping your favourite drink, spare a thought for the man who gave us the first paper straws. And in case you are doing it with your friends or family, regale them with the story of Stone...

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 4:02:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/stone-paper-scissors-straws/article33401013.ece

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