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The Origins Of Common Bar Tools - Part One - The Cork Screw

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History Of The Common Corkscrew

Most of us today recognize that a corkscrew is a tool for drawing corks from wine bottles.

Many people do not realize that years ago it was also used for opening many types of everyday containers, such as: beer bottles, medicine bottles and other household bottles before the invention of screw caps and those ever-common bottle caps known as "Crown" corks used on beer bottles today. 

In its most common form, a corkscrew simply consists of a pointed metallic helix which is often called the "worm".
The worm is attached to a handle, which the user screws into the cork and pulls to extract it from its tight fitting position in the bottle's neck. 

Corkscrews are necessary because corks themselves, being small and smooth, are difficult to grip and remove. This is particularly challenging when inserted fully into an inflexible glass bottle. More modern styles of corkscrews are designed with various systems of levers that increase the amount of force exerted outwards upon the cork's fixed position, making it easier to extract the most difficult corks.

In its traditional form, the "basic" corkscrew is simply a steel screw attached to a perpendicular handle, made of wood or some other material, (As Seen In Above Photo). The user grips the handle and screws the metal point into the cork, until the helix is firmly embedded, then a vertical pull on the corkscrew extracts the cork from the bottle. The handle of the corkscrew allows for a commanding grip to ease removal of the cork.

There is a lot of speculative history available about the origins of the first cork screw used for uncorking bottles.

Historians believe its design may have been directly influenced by the gun worm of the early 1630's. This was a device used by musketmen to remove unspent charges from a musket's barrel in a similar fashion.

Most likely then, the corkscrew is a British invention, due to what we know about the tradition of beer and cider. Treatise on Cider by John Worlidge in 1676 describes "binning of tightly corked cider bottles on their sides", although the earliest reference to a corkscrew is a "steel worm used for the drawing of corks out of bottles", from a well known historical English news sheet, printed in 1681.

Records show that in 1795 Reverend Samuell Henshall was granted the first corkscrew patent, in England. The clergyman affixed a simple disk, now known as the Henshall Button, between the worm and the shank. The disk prevents the worm from going too deep into the cork, forces the cork to turn with the turning of the crosspiece, and thus breaks the adhesion between the cork and the neck of the bottle. The disk is designed to be slightly concave on the cork side, which compresses the top of the cork and helps keep it from breaking apart during removal.

Did You Know?
A person who collects corkscrews is called a

Other Variations:

-Wing corkscrew-

First invented in 1939, a wing corkscrew, sometimes called a butterfly corkscrew or angel corkscrew, has two levers, one on either side of the worm. As the worm is twisted into the cork, the levers are raised. Pushing down the levers draws the cork from the bottle in one smooth motion. The most common design has a rack and pinion connecting the levers to the body. The head of the central shaft is frequently modified to form a bottle opener, increasing the utility of the device. Corkscrews of this design are particularly popular in household use.

-Sommelier knife-

A sommelier knife, "waiter's friend" or "wine key" is a corkscrew in a folding body similar to a pocket knife. The first one was conceived by the German Karl Wienke ("wine key"), in 1882 and patented in Germany, England, and America.
Essentially, a lever arm extends to brace against the rim of the bottle neck for leveraging out the cork. Some sommelier knives have a "double step" lever, and often also a bottle opener edge is affixed somewhere. A small hinged knife blade is also housed in the handle end to be used in cutting the foil wrapping the neck of many wine bottles. A corkscrew of this type can be used more quickly (and with more "show" or flair) than a wing-type corkscrew.

-Twin-prong cork puller-

Also known as a butler's friend or "Ah-So", the twin-prong cork puller can extract a stopper without damaging it, to allow for sampling the wine before re-inserting the stopper. The stopper is removed by pushing the prongs between the cork and the neck of the bottle, and twisting the stopper out of the bottle. Replacing the stopper involves taking it between the two prongs, then twisting it into the bottle and pulling out the prongs.

-Lever corkscrew-

The lever or "rabbit" corkscrew is operated using a pair of handles which are used to grip the neck of the bottle, and a lever which is simply pressed down to twist the screw into the cork, then lifted to extract the cork. Expelling the cork from the device is done with a similar press/lift action.This style of corkscrew is much bulkier, and typically much more expensive, than other styles, but is much faster.




These were invented in the late 1800s for use in homes, hotel bars and restaurants in an era where all bottles were stopped with corks. They are screwed or clamped to counters or walls. When beer began to be sold in bottles, bars required a speedy way to open them. Most early mounted corkscrew were designed to open beer bottles with short corks. Modern ones are made for longer wine corks.

-Compound Double Levers-

The Compound Double Lever Corkscrews on the left is Englishman Heeley's "Empire." This was Heeley's 1890 patent being an improvement on his 1888 patent. It is marked on top of the handles THE "EMPIRE" J. HEELEY & SONS PATENT. The modern corkscrew is the Bull Pull (below). The packaging states "The Ultimate Corkscrew. The design of this beautifully crafted corkscrew was inspired by the original Empire Double-Lever."


On the left is Nelson Goodyear's 1851 which patent dealt with hard rubber.

The middle pair is the1855 patent of Lund and Hipkins marked LUND'S PATENT SPHERICAL JOINT LONDON.

The right pair are from Hong Kong.

Roundlets originated in the eighteenth century with the hinged barrel type containing a double hinged worm. Later versions had cases which either unscrewed or pulled apart with the worm stored in one end. One side is removed, the worm is pulled out and turned perpendicular to the case, then the empty side is threaded or pushed back on to form the handle. A third type is the roundlet which contains several loose tools with one or two slots in their shafts to mate with one or two slots in the case. Lighters, hammers, rasps, spoons, cap lifters and whistles have also been attached in various ways. Roundlets can be found in brass, steel, wood, gold, silver, celluloid, rubber, and plastic. The roundlet specialist can build a rather extensive collection by looking at the great number of variations in design, size and material.


A picnic corkscrew has a worm with a short shaft with a ring in the top. The worm is protected by a sheath which is inserted in the ring in the top to form the handle. It is a very convenient stowaway corkscrew for the picnic basket.

The pair on the left are 19th Century and the pair in the middle are modern plastic picnics.

Gucci sold a slightly different type of picnic. The sheath has a slot to accommodate the leg of the letter G.


One of the most important inventions of the nineteenth century was that of Sir Edward Thomason. His design was granted English patent number 2617 on May 7, 1802. He produced his corkscrews in Birmingham and was one of the first major producers of corkscrews.

The modern "Thomason" is on the right.

-Lazy Tongs-

The father of the lazy tongs corkscrew was Marshall Wier. An abridged version of his 1884 patent specification reads "The screw is attached to a centre pin of the lowest pair of cross-bars of the lazy-tongs, and the ring, which passes over the bottle neck, is hinged to the side bars, suitable stops being provided to prevent lateral motion when the corkscrew is closed. A suitable handle is hinged at the other end of the lazy-tongs"

On the left is the modern "Lazy Fish."

-Bar Multi Tools-

In 2011 The BarBack Tool Company LLC and its owner Dennis Oakley received the first US utility patent granted on a beverage multi tool with over 10 functions. This first of 7 patents for "The BarBack Tool", includes a "double-lever wine key system" as one of its primary patent claims in US patent 8015642.

The BarBack Tool Company takes pride in the fact that it invested 3 years of prototyping to produce a very durable, high-quality beverage multi tool. Being a professional bartender enabled Oakley to deliver valuable insight to the engineers, especially when developing the wine key, corkscrew and foil cutter.

The "bar multi tool" concept conceived by Oakley was a direct result of him realizing a need for a higher quality bar tool device, able to perform multiple tasks but maintain a tight, compact embodiment. It was made to fit in any pocket or clip to any belt, boot or article of clothing.

"Over the years of working behind bars, I grew tired of using the cheap, broken 'freebie' wine keys.", Oakley said. "Finally, one day I dedicated myself to creating a newer, better bar tool... and I haven't stopped since that day."

Only ten months after The BarBack Tool's pre-sales debut in a February 2012 Kickstarter campaign, several other companies attempted to design, patent and release other forms of bar multi tool designs. The first bar multi tool "concept-knock-off" came via entrepreneur and marketing expert Joshua Salles' "Bar-10-der Tool".  The unfortunate fact is that "The Bar-10-der" product seemed to be rushed through production to get to market, and it was not prototyped properly. The Bar-10-der Tool was criticized online by many reviewers complaining of its poor quality, bulky design, dangerous sharp edges, dull blades and an overall limited, non-user-friendly design.


There are many other styles of corkscrews, 'copy-cat' novelty bar multi tools, and more which are not widely used in consumer settings, such as high-priced elaborate devices for high volume catering specialists, and other industrial uses.


Did you know?

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