Biography of Marvin Stone, Inventor of Drinking Straws

Red and white striped drinking straws
Ilona Nagy / Getty Images

Marvin Stone (April 4, 1842–May 17, 1899) was an inventor who is best known for inventing, patenting and producing the spiral winding process to manufacture the first paper drinking straws. Before his straws, beverage drinkers were using the natural rye grass or hollow reed straws.

Fast Facts: Marvin C. Stone

  • Known For: Invention of the paper drinking straw. 
  • Born: April 4, 1842 in Rootstown, Ohio. 
  • Parents: Chester Stone and his wife Rachel.
  • Died: May 17, 1899, Washington, D.C.
  • Education: Oberlin College (1868–1871), Theology.
  • Spouse: Jane E. ("Jennie") Platt, of Baltimore MD (m. January 7, 1875)
  • Children: Lester Marvin Stone

Early Life

Marvin Chester Stone was born on April 4, 1842, in Rootstown, Portage County, Ohio, the son of another inventor, Chester Stone and his wife Rachel. Chester Stone was an inventor himself, having invented the washing machine and a cheese press. In the 1840s, Chester moved his family to Ravenna, Ohio, where Marvin went to high school.

After high school, he started a degree at Oberlin College, but when the Civil War broke out in 1861, he mustered into service as a private in the Seventh Regiment of Company C, of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He fought at Gettysburg and Chancellorsville, and was wounded and disabled from active duty in the Battle of Lookout Mountain, near Chattanooga, Tennessee on Nov. 24, 1863. He eventually transferred to the Veterans Reserve Corps and was sent to Washington DC on December 1, 1864 where he stayed in special services until he was mustered out on August 7, 1865.

After the war, he returned to Ohio and in 1868 enrolled at Oberlin College as a music major but graduated from the College of Theology in 1871. He was then a newspaper journalist in the Washington DC area for several years. On January 7, 1875, he married Jane E. "Jennie" Platt: they had one child, Lester Marvin Stone.

Inventive Life

Marvin Stone began to imply his inventive nature into his business life in the late 1870s, when he invented a machine for making paper cigarette holders. He started a factory in Ninth Street, Washington DC to supply a major contractor, W. Duke Sons and company's Cameo brand of cigarette holders.

His paper straw invention was the result of a problem Stone recognized: people used natural materials—rye grass and reeds—to consume cold liquids with, which sometimes brought an additional taste and odor to the drink involved and were often cracked and grew musty. Stone made his prototype straw by winding strips of paper around a pencil and gluing it together. He then experimented with paraffin-coated manila paper, so the straws would not become soggy while someone was drinking.

Marvin Stone decided the ideal straw was 8 1/2-inches long with a diameter just wide enough to prevent things like lemon seeds from being lodged in the tube.

Stone Straw Corporation

The product was patented on January 3, 1888. By 1890, his factory was producing more straws than cigarette holders The company was housed in a large manufacturing establishment at 1218–1220 F Street, Northwest in Washington, DC. On February 6, 1896, Stone applied for two U.S. patents (585,057, and 585,058) for a machine which made artificial straws made of paper; the patents were published in June 22, 1897. 

Stone was reported to be a kind and generous employer, looking after the "moral and social condition of his working girls," and supplying them with a library, music room, meeting room for debates, and a dancing floor in the F Street building.

Stone died on May 17, 1899, before his machines were brought into production. The company continued under the leadership of his brothers-in-law L.B. and W.D. Platt. They fought off a patent infringement case in 1902 against William Thomas of the American Straw Company: Thomas was a former employee.

In 1906, the first machine was put into production by the Stone's "Stone Straw Corporation" to machine-wind straws, ending the hand-winding process. Later other kinds of spiral-wound paper and non-paper products were made.

Stone's Patent Paper Julep Straws
Stone's Patent Paper Julep Straws.  Public domain (printed in the The Home Furnishing Review, 1899.

Impact on Other Industries

In 1928, electrical engineers began to use spiral-wound tubes in the first mass produced radios. All were made by the same process invented by Stone. Spiral-wound tubing is now found everywhere—in electric motors, electrical apparatus, electronic devices, electronic components, aerospace, textile, automotive, fuses, batteries, transformers, pyrotechnics, medical packaging, product protection, and packaging applications.

Bendable straws, articulated straws, or bendy straws have a concertina-type hinge near the top for bending the straw into a more favorable angle for sipping. Joseph Friedman invented the bendy straw in 1937.

Death and Legacy

Stone took out several patents in his life—in addition to the cigarette holders and straws, he invented a fountain pen and an umbrella, and his last invention was for adding color to fine china—but he was also said to be a philanthropist. His factories employed several hundred people, and he was involved with building two blocks of tenement housing in Washington DC to provide good housing for African American people in the city. He also did very well for himself and his family, building a home named "Cliffburn" in Washington Heights, where he and his wife held social events including a U.S. Senator who was a relative of his wife's.

Marvin Stone died before his patented manufacturing process was in production, but the company that Marvin Stone created is still in operation as the Stone Straw Company. Today they produce a variety of types of straws including eco-friendly straws which are bio-degradable and made of paper.

Sources

  • "Obituary: Marvin C. Stone." The Home Furnishing Review 15, 1899. 323.
  • "Death of Marvin C. Stone: Inventor and Manufacturer and Veteran of the Civil War." Evening Star (Washington DC), May 18, 1899. 
  • "Catalogue of Oberlin College for the College Year 1868–9." Springfield, Ohio: Republic Steam Printing Company, 1868. 
  • "Catalogue of Oberlin College for the College Year 1871–72." Springfield, Ohio: Republic Steam Printing Company, 1871. 
  • Thompson, Derek. "The Amazing History and the Strange Invention of the Bendy Straw." The Atlantic, Nov. 22, 2011. 
  • Wilson, Lawrence. "Stone, Marvin C., Private." Itinerary of the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry, 1861-1864: With Roster, Portraits and Biographies." New York: The Neale Publishing Company, 1907. 440-441