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What Once Was

Washington DC, Center of Manufacturing . . .

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By Matthew B. Gilmore*

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. . . For paper straws! Washington DC is not known as a manufacturing center of any kind, yet it was the center of paper straw manufacturing for much of the 20th century.

Marvin Chester Stone was an inveterate inventor, seemingly fixated on enhancing small tubular things — pencil sharpeners, cigarette holders. Stone came from Ohio and came to Washington as a newspaper correspondent. He took up with the family genius for invention and received many patents.

Entry in the Commissioners of Patents' Journal for an early Stone patent for improvements in pencils sharpeners.

Entry in the Commissioners of Patents’ Journal for an early Stone patent for improvements in pencils sharpeners.

In 1882 Stone patented an improved fountain pen but later sold that patent for others to manufacture.

Image of the fountain pen holder Stone patented in 1882. (http://patents.google.com/patent/US260134A)

Image of the fountain pen holder Stone patented in 1882. (http://patents.google.com/patent/US260134A)

January 3, 1888 Marvin Chester Stone received a patent for the artificial drinking (paper) straw. This was a great improvement over a natural rye straw. Family stories recounted that years earlier Stone would frequent Aman’s Restaurant at 316 9th Street, NW where he’d sip a julep through a rye straw. Sipped slowly enough the straw disintegrated in the julep. Inspired, he wrapped paper around a pencil and (with some adhesive) created the first paper straw. He then gave Aman’s a supply for his personal use. Other customers were attracted to this novelty, prompting Stone to get a patent. Aman’s was a famous watering hole in Washington, and just one block from where Stone would initially set up artificial straw manufacture. But a delay between invention and patent seems unlikely, considering Stone’s previous patent record.

Logo from advertisement for Aman's Restaurant. image--courtesy John de Ferrari.

Logo from advertisement for Aman’s Restaurant. image–courtesy John de Ferrari.

Image from Stone's "artificial straw" patent, 1888, for device to wind paper into straws. (http://patents.google.com/patent/US375962A)

Image from Stone’s “artificial straw” patent, 1888, for device to wind paper into straws. (http://patents.google.com/patent/US375962A)

“The product resulting from my operation is an imitation straw requiring close examination in order to distinguish it from the natural straw, having the advantages of greater strength and freedom from liability to crack or split.

“The blank may be made in forms other than those herein shown, and rolled in any manner which will give it a tubular form. I recommend the peculiar formation herein shown for the reason of its simplicity, its great strength, and the fact that it requires the application of the adhesive material to but a small portion of the surface.

“Having thus described my invention, what I claim is —

“1. The artificial straw consisting of the narrow paper strip helically wound into a cylindrical tube secured at one end by adhesive material and treated with water-proof material, substantially as described.

“2. As a new article of manufacture, a paper tube formed in imitation of a straw and treated with paraffin, whereby it is rendered waterproof and adapted for use in the human mouth without injury.

In testimony whereof I hereunto set my hand, this 7th day of May, 1887, in the presence of two attesting witnesses. MARVIN G. STONE.”

Stone doubled-down and patented a double straw in 1897.

Image from Stone's double straw patent, 1897. (http://patents.google.com/patent/US585058A)

Image from Stone’s double straw patent, 1897. (http://patents.google.com/patent/US585058A)

“ARTIFICIAL STRAW.

“No. 585,058. Patented June 22, 1897.

“ARTIFICIAL STRAW.

“SPECIFICATION forming part of Letters Patent No. 585,058, dated June 22, 1897.

“Application filed February 6, 1896. Serial No. 578,240- (Specimens) To all whom it may concern.

“Be it known that I, MARVIN C. STONE, of Washington, in the District of Columbia, have invented a new and useful Improvement in Artificial Straws, of which the following is a specification.

“This invention has reference to a double paper tube of peculiar construction designed to be used for imbibing liquid beverages in a manner similar to the natural straw now commonly used for this purpose.

“The double tube forming the subject of the present invention is made from paper or analogous material, which is first bent longitudinally or otherwise to form a single tube, which tube is collapsed at opposite sides in two longitudinal lines and the collapsed portions forced inward toward each other, thereby dividing the tube into two smaller tubes extending side by side.

“In the accompanying drawings, Figure 1 represents a blank from which my improved able operation I form this blank into a tube, as shown in Fig. 2. The tube is next collapsed or creased at opposite sides in longitudinal lines, as shown in Fig. 3, and the collapsing or creasing being continued until the opposite sides of the tube meet it divides the tube into two smaller tubes a, as shown in Fig. 4, which tubes extend side by side. I propose to secure the inwardly-bent portions of the tube together in any suitable manner, so as to preserve the form of the double tube. This may be accomplished by means of a cement, or it may be accomplished by subjecting the paper before, during, or after the bending operation to a bath of paraffin or other suitable waterproofing material.

“Having thus described my invention, what I claim is —

“As a new article of manufacture, an artificial double straw made in imitation of a natural straw and consisting of a paper tube collapsed at its opposite sides to form two tubes and a waterproofing coating applied thereto and serving to secure the bent sides of the tube together and preserve its tubular form. In testimony whereof I hereunto set my hand, this 4th day of February, 1896, in the presence of two attesting witnesses. MARVIN C. STONE.”

The Evening Star in 1898 reported that Stone had a workforce of 600 employees manufacturing novelties (not otherwise described) and was moving his operation from the upper floors of 430 9th Street, NW to 1218-1220 F Street, NW. The straws were wound by hand at that point.

Entry on Marvin Stone from the Western Druggist, April 1895.

Entry on Marvin Stone from the Western Druggist, April 1895.

Stone and family lived at Cliffburne (spellings vary) on Columbia Road, a noted estate (the site of the Civil War Cliffburn hospital and barracks) taking it over in 1890 from his brother-in-law Senator Lyman Casey. Stone and his wife frequently entertained society there.

June 21, 1896 Evening Star illustration of Cliffburne House (spelling varies).

June 21, 1896 Evening Star illustration of Cliffburne House (spelling varies).

In 1891 his mastiff “Jack” strayed from the estate, and he posted a reward in the Star; in 1893 “Jim” his small black and tan dog ran off also.

Stone was solidly ensconced in Washington society and participated in the 1891 Patent Office Centennial with a “who’s-who” of Washington including Brainard H. Warner, Myron M. Parker, and John Lynch. He was on the executive committee of the American Association of Inventors and Manufacturers (AAIM) — the first president of which was Richard Gatling of Gatling gun fame. Gardiner Greene Hubbard, founder and president of the National Geographic Society and father-in-law of Alexander Graham Bell, chaired the AAIM executive committee.

Stone was also known for philanthropic activities and was part of the late 19th century housing reform movement. The Methodist Episcopal Church of the District started a mission in the Swampoodle neighborhood, including a kindergarten and day nursery; tone donated use of a building for the mission, reported the Evening Star in 1892.
Stone built a substantial cluster of brick row houses near L, Pierce, and North Capitol Streets, NW facing Logan Place for African-Americans. The site is where McKenna Walk and L Place, NW are located near the center of the Sursum Corda area.

He built 24 dwellings, half of which faced Logan Place. But Logan Place itself, fronted on the south by much smaller brick row homes and numerous other non-Stone buildings, would concern Congress, housing reformers and the Alley Dwelling Commission in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.

1903 Baist Atlas map of the block of homes built by Stone for African Americans in the Swampoodle neighborhood (on lots 132-149).

1903 Baist Atlas map of the block of homes built by Stone for African Americans in the Swampoodle neighborhood (on lots 132-149).

He died May 17, 1899 in Washington, DC and was buried in Baltimore at Green Mount Cemetery. Obituaries (of various accuracy) appeared in the newspapers and the trade magazines, such as The Spatula (a magazine for druggists). His wife Jane (Jennie) Platt Stone died in 1921 and was buried beside her husband. Her family included brothers Herman, James, Lester, William, and sister Harriet, wife of Senator Lyman Casey (R-ND).

The company continued under new leadership after Stone’s death. A handsome new building by architect Albert Schneider was built in 1907 for Stone Straw (Novelty Mfg. Co.) on O Street, NE between North Capitol and First Streets.

In the 1930s the manufacture moved to the Brookland area at 900 Franklin Street, NE.

The Stone Straw building at 900 Franklin Street, NE. photo--courtesy Popville.

The Stone Straw building at 900 Franklin Street, NE. photo–courtesy Popville.

The Washington Post in 1941 (“From soda straws to defense: it’s done in D.C.” Aug. 27, 1941) reported on the war-related manufacturing done by Stone Straw, including a variety of paper products — containers, casings, corkscrews — all manufactured in the Brookland factory. Stone also manufactured gasoline and oil filters in Georgetown.

Historic recognition plaque mounted on the Stone Straw building. photo--courtesy Popville.

Historic recognition plaque mounted on the Stone Straw building. photo–courtesy Popville.

Stone Straw Co. merged in 1972 with J.L. Clark Manufacturing. Stone’s nephew Landra Platt had run the firm since 1924. Another family firm, Stone Industrial Corp. (run many years by Stone’s great nephew James Beach Platt) acquired and reinvented Cherry Smash as Almond Smash. A few days ago, June 29, 2015, CLARCOR Inc, parent of J.L. Clark, Inc., sold it to CC Industries.

The straw manufacturing business is carried on by Stone Straw Ltd., a Canadian subsidiary of Wentworth Technologies Co., Ltd. Its products include plastic drinking straws, coffee stirrers, molded bar supplies, pizza supports, PET clear cups, and portion cups with lids; also, woodware products, such as Popsicle sticks, toothpicks, bamboo skewers, and custom medical 0roducts.

The Stone Straw building, currently owned by Metro, is slated for sale.

*Matthew B. Gilmore is the editor of the H-DC discussion list and blogs on Washington history and related subjects at matthewbgilmore.wordpress.com; he is also on the Board of Directors of Humanities DC. Previously, he was a reference librarian at the Washingtoniana Division of the DC Public Library for a number of years and chaired the Annual Conference on DC Historical Studies for four years.

(For nearly five years until June of 2015 until he decided to devote more time to researching and writing, researching and writing of this feature was by Stephen A. Hansen, an historic preservation specialist, Washington DC historian, author of several books and of the Virtual Architectural Archaeology blog.)

© 2015 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Matthew B. Gilmore. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part, including for commercial purposes, without permission is prohibited.