Or, a rather large re-tweet.
Cocktail historian David Wondrich, always willing to share a bit of history with the world at large, sent out a series of posts on Twitter last week entitled "The History of the Hawthorne Strainer: a 7-Part Twitter Investigation." With his kind permission I share his findings.
The now-familiar strainer employing the spring around the edge was invented by William Wright in 1892, and on October 11 of that year a patent was granted. (Who knew Google had patent search? Very cool.)
Mr. Wright commented:
"I am aware that a strainer having a self-adjusting wire coil around the edge is not broadly new, and I do not, therefore, claim such as my invention. My strainer, however, differs from those hitherto constructed in having the wire coil mounted upon and supported by an independent wire ring instead of being threaded through holes at the edge of the bottom plate of the strainer, and also in being provided with means whereby the wire coil can be readily slipped off from its supporting-ring when it is desired to cleanse the strainer, these and the corrugations in the handle being the novel and essential features of my invention."
Note that the holes in Mr. Wright’s strainer form a star in the middle with a double row of holes around the edge. Interestingly, in the patent application the strainer is depicted with the coil facing up, the opposite of how it's generally used today.
Wright’s 1892 patent, however (for reasons unclear to me at the moment), was assigned to Dennis P. “Denny” Sullivan, of Boston. He ran a popular establishment called the Hawthorne Café, at 24 Avery St.
Sullivan rearranged the holes around the rim of the strainer to spell “Hawthorne.”
At the price of 75¢ in 1892 such a strainer would sell for the equivalent of $18.20 today -- more than I pay for a particularly nice Hawthorne strainer at Bar Keeper! Here's a better look at the arrangement of the holes:
Sullivan died in 1896, but his apparently his company, and most certainliy the strainer, live on. The patent, I would expect, has long since expired, and Hawthorne-style strainers can be purchased from a variety of companies. (I'm partial to the ones made by WMF, although I prefer their previous and now-discontinued style.) At $16.68, it's still "cheaper" than the 1892 version!
Thanks again to Dave Wondrich for sharing this research with us, and a tip of the hat to the folks on Chowhound for their original post on the subject.