A tale of friendship and the quest for the secret dimensions of the most popular straw in the world

A tale of friendship and the quest for the secret dimensions of the most popular straw in the world

On September 20, 2018, the state of California made it a tiny bit tougher to get a straw at a restaurant. You now have to ask. No longer do straws come automatically with a drink. They?re not verboten. They?re not even really frowned upon. I have seen no evidence of straw- shaming, or even quiet whispers from other people in restaurants. But anyone with a conscience now has to take a moment and ask themselves, ?Do I really need a straw??

The benefits of this are obvious. It will dramatically reduce the amount of plastic put into our landfills, our oceans, and on the side of highways. You can still ask for the straw, but maybe it will make you go without, or at least dispose of the straw carefully.

But make no mistake; people still need straws.

It was only a few days after the new straw law went into effect that I pulled away from a drive-thru with my increasingly cranky daughter?s Happy Meal and realized there was no straw in the bag. I couldn?t hand my 3-year-old her milk without putting a straw in it. That would be a disaster ? a wide-mouthed bottle in a moving car in the hands of 3-year-old ? I might as well open the milk and sling it all over the car myself.

?Daddy, I?m thirsty!? ?the whole way home.

My wife and I were perfectly happy to buy reusable straws. We?d just never had motivation to do so. We searched ?reusable straw? on Amazon, and were blown away with the choices. Glass. Metal. Washable Plastic. Bamboo. Silicon. And in every size you can imagine. How does one pick the straw they hope to use the rest of their life? Incapacitated with choice, we couldn’t make the decision.

After closing the browser window and taking some deep breaths, we regained our senses and started thinking logically again. There had to be a way to pick the perfect straw. What we needed was a model ? something that we already knew we liked, and then try to find it?s equivalent in reusable form. Picking the model wasn?t hard. Anyone who?s ever had a McDonald?s soda or milkshake knows that someone spent a LOT of time creating the perfect straw (they use the same straw for both sodas and milkshakes).

Now you might wonder if there are better straws out there, but it?s hard to argue that a company with huge budget for Research and Development, a company that arguably sells more sodas than any other in the world, the company that invented the Shamrock Shake somehow chose a less than perfect straw. And when you do a bit of research, there are dozens of articles about how they chose their straw and it?s benefits. It?s fascinating!

Here?s a great one: A lip-smacking look at the day that drinking straws got bigger

And to their credit, McDonald?s is aware of the problem plastic straws create for the environment, and they?re working on alternatives, soon to phase out plastic straws in the UK, and then the US West Coast.

You can read about that here:McDonald?s to test plastic-straw alternatives in U.S. later this year

So in picking a reusable straw, the first requirement for us was that the straw work as well and feel similar to a McDonald?s straw. We are kind of obsessive about experience, and less sensitive to price. I searched Google for the dimensions of the McDonald?s straw, and though I found dozens of articles about how McDonald?s chose their straw, it?s benefits, and what the next evolution of the straw might be, I couldn?t find the dimensions.

Is it like the secret formula for Coke? Are the dimensions protected by patents? Why isn?t this something I can Google?

And if I publish the dimensions, will Hamburglers surround my house and take me away? Am I jeopardizing my home and happiness by even asking this question? Well, it?s a risk I?m willing to take. And I?m willing to drag my closest friends down the rabbit hole with me.

I?m pretty nerdy, but I don?t have highly accurate measuring tools. I decided to crowd-source the problem in a public Facebook post.

Could someone with the proper measuring tools please tell me the *EXACT* measurements of a McDonald?s straw? Asking for a state.

That Facebook post led to some funny banter, and several good friends chimed in. But one friend? one former marine turned coder, simi-retired to the Texas Hill Country, and constant project putterer and craftsman? he took the request very seriously.

The Friend

That?s how this silly quest became a story of friendship. You see, I haven?t seen my friend Gary in a decade, but we were in a startup together a long time ago, built value and were part of the team that got acquired by a much larger company. We then helped grow that company to pretty great success. In other words, we had counted on each other, worked hard together, and built things together, and became good friends along the way.

The Methodology

So Gary sees this dumb post on Facebook and sets to work. The first thing he did was go to a McDonald?s drive-through and get a drink and a straw ? something he hadn?t done in years. And he didn?t just measure the straw and spit out the answers. He videoed how he did it, and to be clear, it?s not as easy as you imagine. How does one accurately measure the diameter of a flexible straw?

It?s all there in the videos. It involved flattening the straw, measuring flattened width, and doing some math. he got pretty obsessive about wall-thickness, too.

Here?s an image of Gary?s ?lab notebook? and calculations:

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Here are his hilarious videos about how he measured:

The length was so easy to measure that he forgot to do it, so I called him out, and Gary went back to McDonald?s to get another straw. That should tell you a little something about Gary. If there was no challenge, he almost didn?t consider the task worth his time. But he also wasn?t about to fall short of the task. He posted this image a few hours later.

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And of course he checked his work:

The Results

Finally, I will risk my life (and Gary?s) and publish the exact dimensions of a McDonald?s straw, with all the credit going to my good friend Gary, and of course McDonald?s.

The exact dimensions of a McDonald?s Straw:Inner diameter: .2678 Inches, 6.80212 MillimetersOuter diameter: .284 Inches, 7.2136 MillimetersWall Thickness: .0081 Inches, 0.20574 MillimetersLength: 8.017 Inches, 203.6318 Millimeters


So far, it?s been very hard to find a great straw replacement. Some people will prefer metal, while others glass, silicon, bamboo, or reusable plastic. It?s going to take a lot more research to recommend one. And unfortunately, none of the reusable straw manufacturers give the exact dimensions of their products on Amazon. They often give length and overall diameter, but with varying materials, internal diameter will be a key dimension. Maybe I?ll buy a bunch and ship them to Gary to measure?


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