The magnificent spork, that eating utensil long cherished by fast food restaurants, has existed for longer than many might realize. The simplicity of its design and function make it an item that is often taken for granted. The name “spork” is a portmanteau, combining the words spoon and fork. Other similar utensils exist, each with their own portmanteau name: Spife, Knork, Sporf, etc. Perhaps backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts are the folk who best understand the usefulness and value of the spork. The combination of spoon and fork not only cuts down on weight but also makes cleaning up after meals that much easier.
One of the earliest recorded instances of a spork-like utensil comes out of the U.S. Patent Office. In 1874 a man named Samuel W. Francis applied for a patent for a combined knife, fork, and spoon. Francis’ spork had tines extending out of the front of the bowl of the spoon and also featured a short knife edge extending out from the side of the spoon. Several other patents were issued in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for different designs of spork, but these were all design patents that only protected a specific configuration of the utensil. The Finnish army also uses a combination spoon/fork called a Lusikkahaarukka, although this device is not directly analogous to the modern spork.
The more recent history of the spork is not an easy thing. According to the New York TImes, in 1952 a man named Hyde Ballard applied for a patent on the name “Spork”, although this patent is no longer on record in the patent office. Coinciding with the rise of the fast food restaurant the spork became more and more common and eventually made its way into the everyday vernacular. In 2006 a Swedish designer named Joachim Nordwall tried to reinvent the spork and make it more useful by placing the tines and the bowl of the spoon at the opposite ends of the utensil. Nordwall’s employer, Light My Fire, currently sells this new design alongside other outdoor supplies.
Although new designs of the spork will undoubtedly be “invented,” mankind has been using combination utensils of various types for centuries. The value and convenience these tools provide is something that is as important now as it was when they were first created.