The Debated Origins Of The Screwdriver Cocktail

The Screwdriver has to be one of the simplest cocktails ever invented. It's so simple it hardly seems like it even needed an inventor or origin story. It has only two ingredients, per Mr. Boston Drinks: vodka and orange juice. Sure, the ratio between the two ingredients has been tweaked over the years, but doesn't this feel like the kind of drink that just gets discovered by accident?

Maybe, but as it happens, there are a variety of purported historical antecedents for the Screwdriver, notes VinePair. Some versions place the invention of the cocktail in the U.S., others in foreign locales. But all of the more popular stories associate the drink with a relatively recent origin. If it truly was born in the U.S., its origin would almost have to be recent.

According to Atlas Obscura, vodka wasn't introduced to the U.S. until the 1920s, when the North American rights to Smirnoff vodka were sold to an American distiller. But due to Prohibition and the unfamiliarity of U.S. consumers with this traditional Eastern European liquor, it took a while to catch on. Vodka really didn't achieve much popularity in the U.S. until the 1940s. It was then, during the aftermath of the Second World War, that vodka-based sippers like the Screwdriver, Moscow Mule, and Bloody Mary became commonly ordered cocktails.

The most likely Screwdriver origin stories

One fact that all of the Screwdriver's origin stories seem to agree on is that the cocktail was invented around the time of World War II. VinePair links the cocktail's invention to American marines during that war, but Oxford Reference suggests that American airmen, not marines, gave the vodka and orange juice mixture its name. According to the latter publication, American airmen stationed in Ankara, Turkey invented the Screwdriver moniker in 1943. The cocktail itself may have predated the name, but it almost certainly originated during the war, according to this version of events.

Turkey, or rather Turkish citizens, played a part in another Screwdriver origin story. This account, notes VinePair, is given credence by a 1949 article in Time Magazine, which claimed the cocktail was invented at New York City's fashionable Park Hotel, where it was a favorite of both Turkish spies and American engineers. Yet another version, meanwhile, traces the drink's origins to the Middle East. More specifically, the Persian Gulf region, where American roughnecks in local oil fields began stirring their mixtures of vodka and orange juice with actual screwdrivers since they didn't have more refined tools. This popular tale, like the Park Hotel version, is said to have taken place just after World War II.

It's unclear whether any of these stories are true. But more than half a century after its putative origins, the cocktail remains a favorite, both for bartenders – who love its simplicity – and their customers.