Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Guide to the Joseph B. Friedman Papers

Collection ID:
Friedman, Joseph Bernard, Dr., 1900-1982
Friedman, Betty
Flexible Straw Corporation.
Flex-Straw Co.
Physical Description:
8 Cubic feet
17 boxes, 2 oversize folders
Papers relating to the development of the flexible drinking straw, Friedman's manufacturing company, and Friedman's other inventions, such as an ice cream scoop, fountain pens, and household appliances.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
Papers relating to the development of the flexible drinking straw, Friedman's manufacturing company, and Friedman's other inventions, such as an ice cream scoop, fountain pens, and household appliances. Includes company ledgers, preliminary sketches, blueprints, correspondence, a video cassette, and photographs.
Scope and Contents
The Joseph B. Friedman Papers encompass the years 1915-2000, with the bulk of the material ranging between 1925 and 1965. This collection is a near complete source for the understanding inventive process of an American entrepreneur. In the case of the flexible straw, the evolution of the invention can be traced from early concept drawings through its manufacture and production, to the development of advertising and marketing materials. Records of necessary design modifications in the flexible straw and legal issues concerning Friedman's invention through its various stages are present here. In addition to providing a detailed linear account of the flexible straw, these papers reflect the varied interests and additional accomplishments of Friedman's invention career. The collection is arranged in three series to reflect the subjects of the material, namely personal papers, invention materials, and corporate records. Materials within each series are arranged by topic and type, and then chronologically.
Series 1: Personal Records (c.1920s-1940) contains family photographs, personal correspondence, education and employment records. Friedman's education records are in Subseries A, while the records of his careers in optometry, insurance and real estate are contained in Subseries B. Subseries C contains personal financial records, including bank statements and income tax returns. Correspondence, photographs, family history items and death certificate are located in Subseries D.
Series 2: Invention & Patent Materials (1915-1967) consists of invention records that include original concept drawings, legal records and patents, marketing correspondence, and the business records of Friedman's sole proprietorship invention business, the Commercial Research Company. It is important for researchers to note that information on the assignment of straw patents and their machinery, all associated legal records to those specific issues, as well as patent defense case research, and straw advertising and marketing after 1938 may be found in Series 3. Series 2 is divided into several subseries. Subseries A - I are patented inventions arranged chronologically by patent issue date, and include research and development, legal records and correspondence, and advertising and marketing materials. Subseries J - M contain unpatented inventions and business records, as well as multiple concept drawings and invention lists that refer to both patented and unpatented inventions. Researchers interested in the conceptual development of the straw should review the information contained not only in Subseries E: Drinking Tube and Subseries H: Flexible Straw, but also in Subseries L: Invention Lists & Drawings for straw ideas that were drawn on lists or sketches with other concepts. Additionally, researchers interested in the manufacturing device for the straw should review Subseries I: Apparatus & Method for Forming Corrugations in Tubing, as well as Subseries K: Unpatented Inventions, for the Flexible Straw & Method of Forming Same information.
Series 3: Flex-Straw Corporate Records (1938 - 1967) includes correspondence relating to the company and its formation, financial statements, tax returns, legal documents, patent assignments, royalty information, patent defense case research and records, and documents pertaining to the advertising and marketing of the flexible straw. Researchers should note that all conceptual and developmental details relating to the straw and its manufacture, as well as the original patents and their specifically associated legal correspondence can be found in Series 2. Series 3 is divided into several topically arranged subseries. Subseries A consists of the organizational materials for the company, including the minutes, by-laws and limited employee records. This subseries also contains two day books belonging to Joseph B. Friedman recording his appointments and personal notes from 1947 and 1950. Subseries B includes company related correspondence, organized by the correspondent. It begins with general correspondence, from 1939 - 1963, and continues with the letters of Bert Klein (1945 - 1950), David Light & Harry Zavin (1938 - 1962), and Betty Friedman (1940 - 1954). Much of the operational information on the company may be found in the letters Betty Friedman wrote and received from her brother. Subseries C holds the financial records of the company, including financial statements, ledgers, bank statements, check books, tax returns and royalty statements. Subseries D consists of legal records and correspondence, including such topics as changes in entity type, patent assignments, fair trade agreements and patent defense. Subseries E contains the advertising and marketing records of the company. This includes published material relating to the Flex-Straw specifically, as well as some advertising for flexible straws in general. Pencil concept drawings of Flex-Straw packaging and advertising art are drawn on the reverse of Pette calendar pages, and international advertising materials for the product are also present. Product testimonials, distributor bulletins, and corporate letterhead that traces the progression of company locations can also be found here.

The collection is ivided into three series.
Series 1: Personal Records, circa 1920s-1940
Series 2: Invention and Patent Materials, 1915-1967
Series 3: Flex-Straw Corporate Records, 1938-1969

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Joseph B. Friedman (1900 - 1982) was an independent American inventor with a broad range of interests and ideas. Born in Cleveland, Ohio on October 9, 1900, Joseph was a first generation American and the fifth of eight children for Jacob Friedman and Antoinette Grauer Friedman. By the age of fourteen, he had conceptualized his first invention, the "pencilite" lighted pencil, and was attempting to market his idea. Over the course of his inventing career, he would experiment with ideas ranging from writing implements to engine improvements, and household products to sound and optic experiments. He was issued nine U.S. patents and held patents in Great Britain, Australia and Canada. His first patent was issued for improvements to the fountain pen on April 18, 1922, (U.S. patent #1,412,930). This was also the first invention that he successfully sold, to Sheaffer Pen Company in the mid 1930s. In the 1920s, Friedman began his education in real estate and optometry. He would use both of these careers at different points in his life to supplement his income while improving his invention concepts. Although he was working as a realtor in San Francisco, California, the 1930s proved to be his most prolific patenting period, with six of his nine U.S. patents being issued then. One of these patents would prove to be his most successful invention - the flexible drinking straw.
While sitting in his younger brother Albert's fountain parlor, the Varsity Sweet Shop in San Francisco, Friedman observed his young daughter Judith at the counter, struggling to drink out of a straight straw. He took a paper straight straw, inserted a screw and using dental floss, he wrapped the paper into the screw threads, creating corrugations. After removing the screw, the altered paper straw would bend conveniently over the edge of the glass, allowing small children to better reach their beverages. U.S. patent #2,094,268 was issued for this new invention under the title Drinking Tube, on September 28, 1937. Friedman would later file and be issued two additional U.S. patents and three foreign patents in the 1950s relating to its formation and construction. Friedman attempted to sell his straw patent to several existing straw manufacturers beginning in 1937 without success, so after completing his straw machine, he began to produce the straw himself.
The Flexible Straw Corporation was incorporated on April 24, 1939 in California. However, World War II interrupted Friedman's efforts to construct his straw manufacturing machine. During the war, he managed the optometry practice of Arthur Euler, O.D., in Capwells' Department Store in Oakland, California, and continued to sell real estate and insurance to support his growing family. Joseph obtained financial backing for his flexible straw machine from two of his brothers-in-law, Harry Zavin and David Light, as well as from Bert Klein, a family associate. With their financial assistance, and the business advice of his sister Betty, Friedman completed the first flexible straw manufacturing machine in the late 1940s. Although his original concept had come from the observation of his daughter, the flexible straw was initially marketed to hospitals, with the first sale made in 1947.
Betty Friedman played a crucial role in the development of the Flexible Straw Corporation. While still living in Cleveland and working at the Tarbonis Company, she corresponded regularly with her brother and directed all of the sales and distribution of the straw. In 1950 Friedman moved his family and company to Santa Monica, California. Now doing business as the Flex-Straw Co., sales continued to increase and the marketing direction expanded to focus more strongly on the home and child markets. Betty moved west in 1954 to assume her formal leadership role in the corporation. Additional partners and investors were added over time, including Art Shapiro, who was initially solicited as a potential buyer of the patent. On June 20, 1969, the Flexible Straw Corporation sold its United States and foreign patents, United States and Canadian trademarks, and licensing agreements to the Maryland Cup Corporation. The Flexible Straw Corporation dissolved on August 19, 1969.
Dr. Joseph Bernard Friedman died on June 21, 1982. He was survived by his wife of over 50 years, Marjorie Lewis Friedman, his four children Judith, Linda, Pamela and Robert, and seven grandchildren

Marianne Riley
Separated Materials
"Straw samples and an original dispensing device (ice cream disher) are located in the Division of Culture and the Arts (now Division of Cultural and Community Life).
A mandrel prototype from the original flexible straw manufacturing machine is held by the Division of Work and Industry."
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Daughters Judith B. Rosen, Linda A. Reiss and Pamela B. Leeds, and son Robert A. Friedman donated this collection and its related artifacts to the Archives Center of the National Museum of American History on May 1, 2001.
Processing Information
Collection processed by Marianne Riley, 2001.
Existence and Location of Copies
Original video (AC0769-OV0001) digitized in 2016. See repository for details. Digital copy available in the Smithsonian Institution Digital Asset Management System (DAMS)

Digital Content
More …
Using the Collection
Preferred Citation
Joseph B. Friedman Papers, 1915-2000, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
Conditions Governing Use
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research.

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Ledgers (account books) Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Inventors Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Inventions -- 1920-2000 -- United States Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Ice cream scoops Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Ice cream industry Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Household appliances Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Fountain pens Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Drinking straws Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Correspondence -- 20th century Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Blueprints Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Black-and-white photographic prints -- Silver gelatin -- 1950-2000 Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Videotapes Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Paper products Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Patents Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Personal papers -- 20th century Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Rosen, Judith B. Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Reiss, Linda A. Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Leeds, Pamela B. Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Klein, Bert Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Friedman, Robert A. Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

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