Which Came First, the Cork or the Corkscrew?

By John ~ October 2nd, 2009.

Early Corkscrew. Courtesy of Bert Giulian.Am I the only person who contemplates all sorts of esoteric thoughts when sipping a good glass of wine? I doubt that I am. Not too long ago, after using my handy corkscrew to open a good bottle of wine, I got to thinking, “Which came first, the cork or the corkscrew?” Now I realize that you may care less, but it really started bugging me.

My first thought, and I believe I read it somewhere in a wine book long ago, was that the cork obviously came first because why would you need a corkscrew if you didn’t have a cork? Good question, but since I was an engineering student in a former life, I remembered that Archimedes invented the screw and the screw had been used for centuries before wine bottles or corks were developed.

A little more research and I learned that before the early 1700’s wine was stored in casks. Crude bottles, more like pitchers, were used to serve wine but not to store or ship it. The first wine bottles were sealed by wooden plugs covered with wax-coated cloth, and the plugs stuck out of the bottles enough to be able to be removed by hand.

In 1728, a French royal decree allowed the sale of wine in bottles for the first time. About that same time, bottles mass produced in England were becoming available, and it was found that cork could be used to seal them. By that time, a screw-type device had been developed to remove wadding from a gun barrel and that device looks almost exactly like the early corkscrew.

So, I believe the mystery is solved. The fact that the mechanism for removing a cork, the screw, had been around for centuries and was being used in various industries by the time it became needed to remove a cork, gave the wine bottle cork developers the confidence that the cork could be removed if they could just develop a good closure.

And as they say, the rest is history.


Filed under: General Wine Information

Reader's Comments

  1. David Honig | October 2nd, 2009 at 8:21 am

    Interesting point. So why isn’t it called a cork worm? “Worm” is the word for the screw-type device used in gunnery. It was actually used, not to remove just wadding, but also to remove the ball itself. Just how much would that job suck in the middle of battle?

  2. John | October 2nd, 2009 at 11:43 am

    Good question and comment. I believe that the screw part of a corkscrew is generally called the worm.