This script is from the first season of Beer Notes, which you can listen to at beernotes.org.
The origin of straws is based in necessity and celebration, not convenience, and beer played a big role. This week on Beer Notes, we’re exploring the origin of straws.
The oldest surviving straws were found during an excavation of royal tombs in the ancient city of Ur in present-day Iraq, and can be seen at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia. The most dramatic representation is over four feet long and made of solid gold. The ends were closed with perforations to help filter grain husks and other sediment from the beer as it was consumed. This golden straw was found inserted into a large silver vessel made for drinking beer. Several other straws were found during this excavation, many made of copper and decorated with lapis lazuli.
Depictions of people drinking beer in this way decorate the tombs and temples of the period. It is believed that this communal beer drinking through long straws cemented social and political relationships.
Modern, single-use straws were invented in 1888 by American Marvin Chester Stone, who was sipping a mint julep through the popular rye grass stalk. Mr. Stone objected to the grassy taste and mush from his dissolving rye straw and designed a paper straw coated with wax.
In 1938, another American invented the bendy straw. In the 1960s, plastic replaced paper and straws became one of the biggest sources of unrecycled waste. Now many are banning plastic straws, and environmentally-friendly companies are going back to the paper design of 1888.
We don’t usually drink beer with straws these days, but we certainly have continued drinking beer with friends and colleagues to cement social and political relationships. For Beer Notes, this is Anne Neely.