The cocktail shaker originated from the everyday containers used to store, mix or transport its contents. Early examples of these go back many thousands of years BC in South America, Egypt and Mesopotamia, where the gourd was valued for its use as a closed container. However, it took until 1900 for the modern idea of a cocktail shaker to become commonly used by bartenders. Indeed, at this time New York City hotels were still serving five o”clock tea as was customary in England. When cocktails replaced tea at five, some shakers looked very much like the teapots they had replaced.
An innkeeper originally invented the cocktail shaker in the late 1800s. He found that the smaller mouth of one container fit into another, so he held the two together and shook the drink back and forth, primarily for show.
In the 1920s martinis were all the rage and served from silver shakers by the wealthy. Glass or nickel-plated shakers were used by the less affluent. When Prohibition became law, the mixed drink and cocktail shaker were pushed underground. As the popularity of the cocktail shaker increased, the styles and shapes varied from airplanes and roosters to golf bags and penguins.
By the end of the 1930s, the cocktail shaker had become an affordable household object, mass-produced in factories. Chrome-plated stainless steel shakers with Bakelite finishes replaced those of sterling silver. At this time, skyscrapers had inspired many designs, notably the work of Norman Bel Geddes. His sleek 1936 chrome-plated “Manhattan Skyscraper serving set ” is still sought by collectors today. By now the range of shapes and styles had expanded even further, encompassing such everyday items as bowling pins or dumbbells.
The beginning of World War II severely limited the supply of metal as it was needed for military manufacturing, thus ending the golden era of the cocktail shaker. After the war, they faded from popular culture and fashion. In the early 1950s, a brief renewal of interest in cocktail shakers was expressed by a surge of diabolical battery-powered stirring devices, electric blenders, and ready-mixes. The rituals, showmanship, and style were forgotten in an age obsessed by new technology. Now, fifty years later, people have rediscovered the cocktail shaker as a symbol of elegance and flair.