From an 1890 issue of The American Stationer
Only a Corkscrew
(WRITTEN FOR THE STATIONER)
And altogether insignificant looking, no matter from what point of view it is regarded. Where as a manufacture, or article of utility, or indispensable aid to the enjoyment of ginger ale or Piper Heidsick, its importance is apt to be overlooked. In fact a corkscrews is one of those commonplace littler articles which civilization has evolved to meet those requirements of comfort and convenience never appreciated until they are wanted and cannot be found. After a person has spent half an hour in trying to dig a cork out of the neck of a bottle with a fork, and has succeeded in jabbing his thumbs and pushing the cork down into the bottle, his mind will, for the time being, undergo a change, a corkscrew will assume considerable importance in his estimation.
A corkscrew seems to be one of the simplest contrivances in the world and hardly deserving of a second thought as a manufacture. If one were to ask the first person how he met how the little instrument is made the answer would undoubtedly be that a piece of steel wire was coiled round, a shank inserted into the handle end, and then a wooden handle put on a under a metal ferrule. To all appearances that would be quite correct, which proves how little the world at large knows about the labor expended upon even the plainest contrivance intended to serve its convenience. Really, however, corkscrews have to undergo about a dozen different operations before they are ready for the handles, the first of which is cutting the steel wire into lengths. Then each piece of wire is put into a machine which draws out the part to be coiled, making its diameter considerably less than that of the upper part. After this they are again cut to obtain uniformity of length.
The next two operations are pointing and drilling a hole for the insertion of a shank, after which comes the grinding and the annealing of the point, which must be very sharp of course. Each wire is not put into a little machine and bent into an obtuse angle at the point where the coil will begin. This bend makes a hold for the wire when it is put into the curler, which is the next operation it has to undergo. Simply stated, the curler is a spindle, with a screw thread cut in it, working in a sleeve. A pair of steel jaws hold the wire as it is caught by and drawn into the sleeve and thence around the spindle, following the screw threads.
Tempering and hardening follow, after which large numbers are put into what are called “tumbling barrels,” with a quantity of specially prepared powder, to be brightened. The barrels revolve and the contents being continuallytumbled about, are brightened by the friction. This process requires five days and three changes. The corkscrews are then cleaned in an acid bath, from whence they go to the plating room to be tricked out with a nickel coat, after which they are burnished, and are ready for the handle. If is this to be a common wooden one the operation of attaching it is too simple to need explanation.
If, however, the corkscrews are to be the new and neat novelties which can be carried in the pocket, considerable more manipulation is necessary, as the handle is molded out of white metal, the screw being put in a mold and the molten metal poured in to form the handle. It then goes into a machine which removes the superfluous metal, thence to a lathe which gives the handle a neat and graceful shape. It is then put into another lathe, which turns and smooths the outside of the ring at the end of the handle, and another machine bores the ring to the required diameter and smooths the inner surface. The case is of brass and it seamless, being shaped in dies, and three operations being necessary to draw it into proper shape ; these, with the cutting, nickel plating, beading and burnishing, give seven operations for this alone. When the corkscrew is used the case is removed and inserted in the ring at the end of the handle, thus giving the needed grasp for the fingers.
Here we have one of the simplest implements in common use which, nevertheless, has passed through about fifteen different operations, requiring the services of nearly as many persons, before it reached the handle stage, and that may require from three to a dozen manipulations according to the style being manufactured. Inspecting, testing, carding, packing bring it on its course as far as the truck which consigns it to the tender mercies of the wholesaler and jobber, so that, after all, a corkscrew has achieved importance and experience ere it reaches the butler’s pantry.
With things of common use, as with the commonplace in nature, we are prone to let familiarity breed contempt, yet it is the grass and the trees, not the rose gardens and orchid houses, which make a pleasant landscape. It is the small conveniences, conceived in the busy brain of the genius and laboriously fashioned by skilled mechanism and deft fingers, which save our temper and our strength and do a large part in smoothing life’s pathway. Many people lack dignity, yet are very interesting, nevertheless.
A corkscrew is not a commanding object, yet its career, from the smelting pot to the dealer’s shelf, is full of interesting incidents, although some might say the modest creation has only begun to live at that point, and the real experience and adventure are only gained when it has passed into private ownership. Certainly if some corkscrews had tongues what tales they could unfold !