History of the Corkscrew

Like so many other innovations, the corkscrew was developed out of need. Customers have struggled to remove corks from glass bottles with cork stoppers for as long as we’ve offered wine in glass bottles with cork stoppers, for as long as we can remember, until Peugeot invented their patented corkscrew designs. Inventors started devising equipment to remove corks when the first glass bottles arrived in late seventeenth-century England.

The first mention of a corkscrew dates from the 1680s. These primitive gadgets, known as “steel worms,” were variants of gunsmith-made musket barrel cleaning tools (gun worms). Hundreds more patents would be filed over the following 300 years, continually improving on these initially modified corkscrews. Here’s a rundown of the most significant developments.

The First Corkscrew to be Patented

In 1795, Reverend Samuel Henshall got the first corkscrew patent in the world. To bring his corkscrew to market, Henshall, a religious official at Oxford, England, teamed with Mathew Boulton, a notable manufacturer in Birmingham. The installation of a concave disk between the handle and the worm was Henshall’s main improvement on the wooden-handled steel worm. The disk had two purposes: it prevented the user from screwing too far into the cork, and it forced the cork to spin once that limit was reached, causing any seal between the cork and the glass neck to shatter.

Henshall’s corkscrew was so successful that it was frequently used for almost a century. Cork fans, known as helixophiles, believe that although Henshall copyrighted the design, he was not the creator since identical versions had been constructed decades before.

The Single Direction Twist Was Created

Edward Thompson, another Englishman, is credited with the next significant advancement in corkscrew design. Thompson disclosed a solution to enable a user to spin the corkscrew in a single direction using stacked screws that revolve in different directions in an 1802 patent. A second screw engaged when the first reached its limit, enabling the cork to begin upward movement. Like the iconic “Zig-Zag,” many other corkscrew designs” used this design aspect.

Friend of the Waiter

Carl F.A. Wienke, a German inventor, submitted a patent for the “Waiter’s Friend,” also known as a “Butler’s Friend” and a “Wine Key,” in 1882. A screw and a single lever are used in this small, foldable corkscrew (which has a design similar to a pocket knife, giving it the nickname “Sommelier’s Knife”). The Waiter’s Friend’s handle leverages the edge of the wine bottle to ease the cork’s upward pull. While many modifications have been made to this design, the “Pull-Tap’s” two hinged levers being one of them, the fundamental shape has shown its usefulness since the many versions remain immensely popular with restaurant and bar workers and home wine consumers.

The Wing

H.S. Heely’s 1888 British patent on a corkscrew he termed the A1 Heeley Double Lever gave birth to the double-lever, rack-and-pinion “Wing” corkscrew. This corkscrew made its way to the United States around 1930. The style, which was patented by Italian designer Dominick Rosati, is still reasonably popular. A pair of levers rise on either side of the bottle’s neck when you twist the screw into the cork. The cork increases as you lower the levers. It may be simple and effective when made of heavier, thicker metal. Cheaper, flimsier versions may be hard to operate because they lack the leverage that a corkscrew should offer.