As recently reported by major media outlets nationwide, you may have heard about the potential disappearance of the beloved spork. Following a cultural shift in attitude towards the spork, the reign of this flimsy plastic cutlery in school cafeterias may soon be coming to an end.
The times they are a changin’ in school cafeterias across the nation. Somewhere in the near future, children of today may not know the magical wonder of what is the spork. For that reason, I have written an ode to the purposeless eating device that has touched lives for generations and has helped shape American society.
Definition: Hybrid form of flimsy cutlery has been shrouded in myth and mystery. The official definition is “a spoon-shaped eating utensil with short tines at the tip”.
Popular legend has it that General Douglas MacArthur forced the spork on occupied Japan in the 1940s as a safe, truncated version of Western tableware and obvious alternative to chopsticks. However, documented history demonstrates that the conception of the spork came about much earlier.
Overview – As America began abandoning Victorian values before the turn of the century, the table was set (so to speak) for the spork to defeat “proper” dining etiquette and reign sole champion of 20th Century cutlery.
1874 – Samuel W. Francis was issued US patent 147,119 for a proto-spork which called for the combined design of a spook, fork and knife.
1907 – George Laramy of Enfield, NH patents (Utility Patent #843,953), a combination fork and spoon table utensil
1908 – US Patent 904,553 for a “cutting spoon” granted to Harry L. McCoy
1909 – “Spork” first recorded in dictionary
1912 – US Patent 1,044,869 for a spoon with tinned edge granted to Frank Emmenegger
1949 – Albert McNeill of Philadelphia invented (Utility Patent #2,473,288) a utensil strikingly similar to the spork, incorporated a knife edge on the handle
1951 – Hyde W. Ballard of Westtown, PA files application with USPO to register “Spork” as a trademark
1970 – Van Brode Milling Company registers SPORK for a combination plastic spoon, fork and knife
Spork’s Rise to Fame
The road to the top was not an easy journey for the spork. Numerous failed prototypes emerged throughout the first half of the 20th Century, to what seemed like no avail. Yet, determined inventors, investors, and manufacturers embodied the American dream and refused to give up on forcing the spork’s greatness down the country’s throat.
During the proverbial wild west of lawless spoon-fork exploration, anxious manufacturers were fiercely pitted against one another – embroiled in an all-out patent-war-fueled arms race to define and dominate the spork marketspace. After decades of turmoil, in 1970 the Van Brode Milling Company of Clinton, MA was officially granted protection by the United States Patent Office.
The spork’s reign in fast food restaurants and school cafeterias had officially begun.
Glory Years of the Spork
At the peak of its fame, the spork became a staple in American cultural iconography, creating a frenzied following and fanatic fan base that exists until this day. Spork.org beautifully sums up the spork obsession:
“A spork is a perfect metaphor for human existence. It tries to function as both spoon and fork, and because of this dual nature, it fails miserably at both. You cannot have soup with a spork; it is far too shallow. You cannot eat meat with a spork; the prongs are too small.”
As the spork became commonplace in 20th Century Americana, specific rules were unofficially set in place to govern proper spork etiquette. For contrast, I have included an additional column which illustrates the striking parallels between Victorian Dinner Party Conduct and its modern “Sporkware” equivalent…
|Victorian Table Etiquette||Spork Etiquette|
|No more than two vegetables should be served with each entrée and potatoes should not be offered with fish.||It is impolite to use two sporks when attempting to digest Spaghetti-Os.|
|Never make an effort to clean your plate or the bones you have been eating from too clean; it looks as if you left hungry.||When using a spork to eat mashed potatoes out of a Styrofoam container, it is common courtesy to leave a little ‘spork waste’ at the bottom rather than scrape the Styrofoam with the spork to get every last morsel.|
|No polite guest will ever fastidiously smell or examine any article of food before testing it. Such conduct would be an insult to those who have invited him/her.||The use of sporks for launching peas, mashed potatoes or other inedibles is acceptable only with verbal consent by your meal host and prior agreement to pay for any damages caused.|
|The knives and oyster fork should be placed on the right side of the plate, the other forks on the left.||When place setting, simply substitute the dinner fork with the spork, leaving the knife and salad fork present.|
|The soup should be eaten with a medium-sized spoon, so slowly and carefully that you will drop none upon your person of the table-cloth.||Serving sporks with no suitable alternative is not acceptable when soups or sauces are a dominant portion of the meal in question.|
|Never use anything but fork or spoon when feeding yourself.||You may wish to leave the spoon and/or fork present for “spork-ignorant” guests.|
2012 – New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, and Dallas created the Urban School Food Alliance in a move to combine their purchasing power of $3 Billion to lower prices on better quality food and supplies. One of the first items on their agenda – replace the spork with traditional knives, forks and spoons – a move which will dramatically alter the childhood experiences of 2.8 million children across 4,500 schools.
November 2015 – The Washington Post reported that a final spork will ceremoniously be thrown in a New York City cafeteria trash during the next year, setting a significant precedent districts nationwide are sure to follow.
Future of the Spork
The uncategorizable utensil formally known as the “spork” is survived by its predecessors, the spoon, fork and knife. The foreseeable future appears to be filled with the triumphant return of compostable forks, knives and spoons in school cafeterias. But don’t count useless hybrid utensils out just yet.
“With death comes new life.” Successors spawned from the spork’s success such as the knoon, spife and knork may make a surprise run through the ranks to fill the spork’s void. It will be exciting to see what other useless hybrid utensils may potentially rise from the spork’s ashes.
For further discussion on everything spork-related, be sure to tune into next week’s podcast!