On this day in…
M.L. Byrn patents a new and improved corkscrew.
The history of the corkscrew is interwoven with the histories of gun technology, glass-making and wine storage. Here’s what we learned.
Wine, as you probably know, was initially stored in terracotta amphorae, and then in wooden barrels. Both types of containers were more or less temporary, however, since wine wasn’t aged and therefore needed to be consumed before it spoiled.
Early in the 1700s, glass-blowing technology had advanced to the point where cylindrical-shaped glass bottles with a small bottleneck could be made from a mold. When closed with cork, the bottle became airtight, making possible the aging of wine. (Historically, a variety of substances were kept in corked bottles, of course, not just wine. We’re not going there today!)
Now, with cork lodged in the neck of said bottle, how to best get it out? Enter guns. According to several accounts, the early designers of corkscrews drew inspiration from the so-called “gun worm” — a tool made of a single or double spiral used by riflemen to clean a musket barrel or remove unused charge from it. The most popular corkscrews through the course of the 1700s were the basic “T” shape and “straight pull” designs echoing the gun accouterment.
Patents for corkscrews were already in existence in England, Germany and even the U.S. by the time M.L. Byrn of New York City secured his own in 1860 for a covered gimlet screw with a ‘T’ handle — the “new and improved” corkscrew cited today. Byrn’s design is still celebrated as a ‘first,’ however.
Writer’s note: my own corkscrew of choice is the sommelier knife (also called a wine key). For the life of me, I have never been able to maniuplate a classic wing corkscrew without screwing up. Same is true for the basic T-handle and worm corkscrew — the descendent of Byrn’s 152-year-old patent.
What corkscrew do you use?