#40 Surprising Inventor of the Spork

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In this Food Non-Fiction podcast episode, we talk about the spork. The spork is exactly what it sounds like - a combination of a spoon and a fork. Often ridiculed for being a poor substitute for both spoons and forks, sporks do have the advantage of being cost effective (you're buying one utensil instead of 2) and convenient to carry around (you're carrying one utensil instead of 2). So sporks have been used in schools cafeteria, prisons, fast food chains, as well as on camping trips.

But the spork is not a unique creation. Utensils in the shape of sporks have been around for a long time.

Both ice cream forks, which were used to eat ice cream, and terrapin forks, which were used to eat terrapin turtles, are shaped like sporks.

Also, during the 16th to 18th centuries, there was a utensil called the sucket fork that combined forks and spoons way before the spork. (Note that sucket forks didn’t look like sporks, since the fork prongs went on one end and the spoon went on the other end.)

To recap, ice cream forks, terrapin forks and sucket forks all combined forks and spoons before sporks did.

But one person is credited for inventing the spork because he was the first to patent a utensil which looks similar to the modern day spork. This person was Dr. Samuel Ward Francis.

In 1874, Dr. Francis was issued his patent, titled “Improvement in combined knives, forks, and spoons”.

"The object of this invention is to combine in a convenient manner, in one [implement], a knife, fork, and spoon. To this end I group the several elements closely together, using the bowl of the spoon as the central element, around or upon which the remaining elements are placed. I form the knife on one edge of the spoon-bowl, while the fork-tines are placed at the front end of said bowl."
- Quote from 1874 patent

It looked exactly like a modern day spork, with four short prongs attached to a spoon. It also had an extra piece that modern day sporks don’t have. On the right edge of the spoon was a blade.

Dr. Samuel Ward Francis was born to Dr. John Wakefield Francis and Maria Eliza Cutler in 1835. After attending college, he entered the University of New York in 1857 and graduated as physician in 1860. While he was a student, he earned the Mott prize medal for having the best record of clinics at the university and married Harriet H. McAllister. He was one of the early advocates of sanitary reform. Samuel supported the Sanitary Protection Association, which led to the forming of a Board of Health.

He was a person of many interests - medicine, books, history, invention and philanthropy. By the time he died, he had written 11 books (everything from novels to memoirs) and held 12 patents.

Aside from the proto-spork, he invented a coffin that one could pop open from the inside, in case they were buried alive. He also invented a cane which one could carry their omnibus fare in. Back in his time, the omnibus would have still been pulled by horses.

He was much beloved and died in 1886 at the age of 50. His funeral was covered by the New York Times.

Thank you to our voice actor:
Jamie Tolliday

Thank you to the Looperman artist BradoSanz for the music!
We used these wonderful songs:
Poppy Acoustic 1
Poppy Acoustic 2
Poppy Acoustic 3
Poppy Acoustic 4
Check out this episode!


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