Tea Makers

Given the British preference for a cup of tea with breakfast, it is hardly surprising that automatic tea makers appeared there. The earliest example was patented by Frank Clarke, a Birmingham gunsmith, in 1902. It operated through springs and levers connected to an alarm clock. When set it would ignite a match by running it across emery paper, thus lighting a spirit lamp that would heat the kettle above it.

The Goblin Company, which was well known for its vacuum cleaners, produced the first electric machine in 1933, the Goblin Teasmade. Designed by Brenner Thornton, it was also linked to an alarm clock but had a special kettle that could be set to boil before the alarm went off. The boiling water decanted into the teapot, which sat on a stand.

The weight of the water slightly tipped the teapot, engaging a switch that lit a bedside lamp attached to the machine. Despite folktales of scalded sleepers who had forgotten to replace the teapot, the Teasmade gradually became relatively popular.

Meanwhile, the tea bag was introduced in America. Designed by Thomas Sullivan in New York, its intended use was for sampling tea. It went into commercial production for caterers and had become a popular domestic item by the 1930s. The New York–based Tetley introduced tea bags into Britain in 1953.