American Heirlooms - January 2020

People don’t often wonder about everyday objects, like the seemingly inconsequential drinking straw, but National Drinking Straw Day falls on Jan. 3 and gives people a chance to scrutinize the growing concern over straws’ contributions to global pollution. The Straw’s Origin While the drinking straw has been around for centuries — dating back nearly 5,000 years to ancient Sumerian times — it wasn’t until 1888 that the first drinking straw was patented. Marvin C. Stone, a manufacturer of paper cigarette holders, created a prototype straw by wrapping strips of paper around a pencil, gluing them together, and removing the pencil to create a hollow cylinder from which people could drink. The Straw’s Industrial Boom By 1890, Stone Industrial was producing Stone’s paper straw in massive quantities, surpassing the production of cigarette holders. Stone’s straws were effective for glasses or containers that were difficult to drink from, and as a bonus, they didn’t leave any gritty residue like previous prototypes. Its popularity grew, especially among children and hospital patients who found it challenging to drink directly from a glass. Straws became even more accessible in the 1930s when they were manufactured with the ability to bend.

The Straw’s Consequence It wasn’t long until the rapidly growing plastic industry saw an opportunity. Plastic straws were not only more durable than their paper counterparts, but they were also cheaper to make. Unsurprisingly, the mass production of plastic straws starting in the 1960s contributed to worsening pollution. Today, the National Park Service estimates that Americans use nearly 500 million straws every day. Most of these straws are then discarded, joining millions of tons of plastic materials that wash up across the world’s beaches. To help reduce the amount of plastic in use, people are taking action. Several cities across the U.S., including Seattle, have banned plastic straws in bars and restaurants. Many alternatives have also taken to the market, such as metal or silicone straws that can be used more than once. If you want to help contribute to alternative solutions, most local grocery stores, as well as big manufacturers like Amazon, sell metal or biodegradable straws for less than $10.

The Stories That Came Alive The first book, “Little House in the Big Woods” introduces readers to the Ingalls family, including Laura, Ma, Pa, Mary, and Baby Carrie, on their plot of land in northwestern Wisconsin. The remaining eight books follow the family as they settle across the U.S., including homes in Minnesota, the Dakotas, and the family’s most famous home, Kansas. Perhaps the most well-known “Little House on the Prairie” is the third book in the series and follows the family as they begin their life away from Wisconsin and on the prairies of Kansas. The series also features stories from Wilder’s future husband, Almanzo Wilder. Eventually, the series sees the pair connect, marry, and begin their lives together. The Influence of Wilder’s Writing Today Generations of readers have enjoyed the harrowing, heartwarming, and beautifully told tales of the Ingalls and Wilder families. The books provide wholesome entertainment for the entire family. It’s certainly a favorite in the Zimmerman family! Get lost on the

The American frontier is one of the great hallmarks of U.S. history. From families forging their own path to tragic tales of loss, the frontier and the stories that came from it remain treasured. Laura Ingalls Wilder is one of the most well-known authors and preservers of this great history. This winter, introduce your family to her tales with the nine-book series. How It Began The Wilders lost nearly everything when the Great Depression imploded the U.S. economy in 1929. Coupled with the loss of her mother and older sister just years before, Wilder felt compelled to preserve her family’s pioneering history and story in writing. Wilder shared the story with her daughter, Rose Lane, in 1930, with the hope of preserving her family’s story and possibly generating extra income. Her daughter’s publishing connections — like her mother, Lane was a successful writer — encouraged Wilder to expand on the story, and in 1932, Wilder’s first book, “Little House in the Big Woods” was published.

American frontier with your family by finding “The Little House on the Prairie” book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder at


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