01 October 2016

Teasmade! Wake up and drink it!

Every generation believes it invented the world; that what we have now is bigger, better, smarter and more efficient than what existed in previous generations. Here is an example where that belief might not be true.

When a person woke up in the morning, there were always four things next to the bed that started the day off well: one’s spouse, the alarm clock going off correctly, a bed lamp and a nice, hot cup of tea, freshly brewed. Today we might add two more elements: a radio and a telephone.

Thanks to the Teasmade History Page, we know that in late 1891 Samuel Rowbottom of Derby applied for a patent for his Automatic Tea Making Apparatus, the patent being granted in 1892. It used a clockwork alarm clock, a gas ring and pilot light, proudly displayed by Rowbottom on an exhibition stand. Although there is no evidence that he commercially produced his tea maker, the principle of the tea maker has remained the same since his first patent was filed. The tea-making apparatus boiled water in a specially designed kettle, and once boiled, the water was forced through a tube by steam pressure into a teapot.

In April 1902 a patent for a teasmade was registered by Frank Clarke of Birmingham. He called it "An Apparatus Whereby a Cup of Tea or Coffee is Automatically Made", basically a kettle and a methylated spirits burner attached to an alarm clock. However his original machine and all rights to it were actually purchased from Albert E Richardson, a clockmaker from Ashton-under-Lyne.

But this machine really became practical only with the availability of electric clocks in the 1930s. In May 1932 George Absolom and his Automatic Utilities Company applied for a patent on his invention, an electric automatic tea maker. The patent was passed in 1933 and the invention was then manufactured and marketed as the Teesmade.

The Goblin Company applied for a registered design using the name Teas­made, but this was not accepted by the Patent Office. Yet for some reason, when Absolom's Automatic Utilities Company was wound up, Goblin Company took over and Teesmade became Teasmade. Goblin must have been very happy; a similar electric tea-maker was patented by William H B Thornton in association with Goblin in 1933, shortly after Absolom's patent.

1949 version of Teasmade
Note that the plywood tray, to hold the cups and saucers, is part of the structure

Goblin's next model, also invented by William H B Thornton, was pat­ented in 1934 and was manufactured from 1936. Goblin quickly purch­ased the rights to William H B Thornton’s design, and soon manufact­ured the first commercial Goblin Teasmade. It was made of plywood; a chrome plated kettle and a lampshade of a pleasing and modern design were usually included.

It was available in two versions, the Alarm Model and the Day Model, and buyers could choose from a cream, green or blue finish. A kettle with a tube leading into a teapot was heated by an electric element switched by an alarm clock. The kettle sat upon a spring-loaded pad with a switch, so that when steam pressure pushed the boiling water into the pot, the pad rose and cut the power to the element.

The Day Model had no clock and was operated by a switch as required. A businessman could successfully transplant his tea lady with a teasmade costing £3/15/0!

The Alarm Model with its synchronous alarm clock cost £5/15/6. It came with two earthenware cups, saucers, a cream jug and a sugar basin. An advertisement for it can be seen in the Hobday Brothers electrical catalogue, complete with a matching tinted lampshade. The clock was a synchronous Goblin Electric Alarm Clock. The Alarm Model was complete with original yellow teapot. Either model could be enhanced with a tray, two cups and saucers, cream jug and sugar basin (in the Hobday catalogue this costed an extra 10/6).

Goblin's first advertising for Teasmade

Production of teasmades was halted in 1939 due to the outbreak of war, and did not resume until 1947. In the late 1940s, the body was still plywood, but the tilting platform was now made of cast aluminium, rather than wood, and hinged on the teapot side.

The kettle was square, made of dimpled copper with a chromed finish, and had four bakelite feet. The kettle was made in a top and a bottom half, and had a central seam.

A new-style diagonal teapot with a curved handle was introduced in the early 1950s. This new teapot style continued in use until 1970, with minor changes. Throughout the production years the clock surround was square and chrome finished, but the clock face seems to have changed from square to circular, and then back to square.

Examples of teasmades going back to 1902 are on display at the Science Museum in London, in The Secret Life of the Home exhibition area.

The Director of the British Museum, who had told world history in a Radio 4 series called 100 Objects We Have Made, probably did not include a teasmade. Shame... my life improved far more from hot tea next to my bed each morning than my life improved from a Sutton Hoo helmet, a David Hockney drawing or Hoa Hakananai'a Easter Island statue.


Train Man said...

What did Australians do, in the post war years? All I remember is loose tea, no teammates, no espresso coffee machines and no teabags.

Andrew said...

I know about them and there were here in Australia but it is great to know more and the history. Of course better than such an appliance is a non-alarm wake up and telling your spouse to get out of bed and get you a cup of tea.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, I had no idea that these went back so far. It looks kind of dangerous to me--would you really trust all that pressurized steam and hot water made by a company called Goblin?

In America we are more coffee drinkers, so our equivalent is the automatic Mr. Coffee machine, which came from Cleveland, Ohio!

Workers Unite said...

"A businessman could successfully transplant his tea lady with a teasmade costing £3/15/0!". No wonder workers hated the ruling classes back then!

Hels said...

Train Man

Up until the Olympic Games in late 1956, not even specialist coffee shops owned espresso machines in Melbourne. So I am assuming that my parents' generation drank Turkish coffee, nescafe or loose tea leaves in a tea pot. My entire family used large samovars for tea.

I found some teasmades on sale in Australia, but they weren't older than eg 1972.

Hels said...


When my then-boyfriend and I were getting married, we had to promise each other one luxury event each weekend.

He promised to get up early and bring me (in bed) a cup of black tea, a fresh lemon slice and a slice of cheese cake and sour cream. And the Age Weekend newspaper.

I promised him Sunday brunch with his men friends every week.

So far, so good.

Hels said...


The Brits first applied for a patent for the Automatic Tea Making Apparatus in 1891, and it was granted the next year! Even though the materials and techniques were improved during most of the 20th century, the basic design elements proved to be enduring and successful.

I think the Mr Coffee Machine of 1972, which came from your very own Cleveland, was a very welcome invention. I wonder why it took so long to arrive. If the USA had been a totally tea-focused nation, perhaps the Automatic Tea Making Apparatus would have been either imported into America well before WW1 or the USA would have created its own tea-apparatus industry.

Hels said...

Workers Unite

I understand totally. If a busy tea lady with years of experience and commitment to the company could be thrown onto the dole queue, a teasmade costing £3/15/0 (or any other bit of modern design) could harm working families' lives. I would not have put such a sentiment on the advertising package that surrounded the Teasmade.

Mandy Southgate said...

My mum had one of these when I was growing up although until now, I thought it was a Tea's Maid. It was no 1 on my to-buy list when I moved out of home and I was horrified to discover they were no longer en vogue. I still don't have one.

Hels said...


when I wrote that what we have now is bigger, better, smarter and more efficient than what existed in previous generations, I think I meant it literally. That my parents and their friends were delightful people but not very creative, inventive or modern. It wasn't until I started running a home and working full time that I thought they might know a bit after all!

Your mum was very modern.

Annie ODyne said...

my bladder alarm allows me to turn on the kettle on the way to the bathroom and it has boiled for the teabag by the time I am back through the kitchen on return to bed.
I wonder if TeasMades were more crucial to people in rooming houses?
I am very impressed by your joint spousal vows for weekend luxury. esp that cheesecake element. oh the memory of lemony cooked Polish cheesecake with sultanas in it. I had one once from the wonderful mother of Peter Bakowski a great Melbourne poet.

Hels said...


The trouble with a bladder alarm and a tea bag on the run is that you could only do one thing at a time. No luxury. No classy modernity. Imagine instead if you could boil water, make the tea, light the lamp and wake you up for the day, without moving a muscle. It would almost be like having a maid in tour bedroom.

Anonymous said...

I've just stumbled upon your blog post which has made me very happy as I am the Great, Great Granddaughter of William Thornton (true!) now living in Melbourne. -Jemma, Melbourne

Hels said...


Your great grand father was one of a long line of very clever designers who made our daily life more pleasant. I believe that was more important, for example, than spending squillions of dollars to land humans on the moon.