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British Industrial History

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Thomas Lipton (1848-1931)

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Sir Thomas Johnstone Lipton Bt KCVO (1848 to 1931) was a Glasgow-born Scotsman of Ulster-Scots parentage who was a self-made man, merchant, and yachtsman. He created the famous Lipton tea brand and was the most persistent challenger in the history of the America's Cup.

Lipton's parents, Thomas Lipton senior and Frances Lipton (nee Johnstone), were Ulster-Scots, who came from County Fermanagh.

The Liptons had been smallholders in Fermanagh for generations but, by the late 1840s, they had decided to leave Ireland and return to Scotland in search of a better living for themselves and their young family.

By 1847, the Liptons had settled in Glasgow. Lipton's father held a number of occupations throughout the 1840s and 1850s, including working as a labourer and as a printer.

1853-63 Thomas Lipton was educated at St. Andrew's Parish School close to Glasgow Green.

By the early 1860s, his parents were the proprietors of a shop at 11 Crown Street, in the Gorbals, where they sold ham, butter, and eggs. It was with the aim of supplementing his parents' limited income that Thomas Lipton left school and found employment as a printers errand boy, and then as a shirtcutter. He also enrolled at a night school, the Gorbals Youth's School, during this period.

1865 Lipton signed up as a cabin-boy and sailed from Glasgow to America, where he would spend five years working and travelling all over the country. Lipton had a number of jobs during this time: at a tobacco plantation in Virginia, as an accountant and bookkeeper at a rice plantation in South Carolina, as a door-to-door salesman in New Orleans, a farmhand in New Jersey, and finally as a grocery assistant in New York.

1870 He returned to Glasgow, initially helping his parents run their small shop in the Gorbals.

1871 The following year, he opened his first provision shop - Lipton's Market - in the Anderston area of Glasgow. This enterprise proved to be successful and Lipton soon established a chain of groceries, first across Glasgow, then the rest of Scotland, until finally he had stores throughout Britain. While Lipton was expanding his empire, tea prices were falling and supply was growing among his middle class customers.

1871 Lipton married Margaret McAuslan in Glasgow, who was then pregnant with their child. This son, Thomas, was born later that year, but died in infancy.

1873 Although the couple had another son, William, in 1873, the couple drifted apart. Margaret and her infant son emigrated to Canada, much to Lipton's relief, and with his financial assistance.

1888 By this time his empire had grown to 300 stores; he then entered the tea trade and opened his tea-tasting office. He started by-passing traditional trading and wholesale distribution channels (most UK tea-trading was focused in London's Mincing Lane) in order to sell teas at unprecedented prices to the untapped poor working class market. In order to provide his shops with goods, Lipton bought plantations and in doing so - amongst other things - he established the famous Lipton tea brand which is still in existence today.

1890s Thomas Lipton visited Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and made business deals with James Taylor the man who introduced tea plantations to Sri Lanka. Lipton's company purchased good quality tea from Sri Lanka and distributed it throughout Europe and the USA.

King Edward VII and King George V both shared interests in yachting with Lipton and enjoyed his company.

1898 The company was registered on 3 March, to take over the provision supplying business in Great Britain of Sir Thomas J. Lipton, with tea growing estates in Ceylon and factories and warehouses in London and elsewhere. [1]

Between 1899 and 1930, he challenged the American holders of the America's Cup through the Royal Ulster Yacht Club five times with his yachts called Shamrock - Shamrock V. His well publicised efforts to win the cup, which earned him a specially designed cup for "the best of all losers", made his tea brand famous in the US. As a self-made man, Lipton, was not a natural member of the British upper class and the Royal Yacht Squadron only admitted him shortly before his death.

Lipton donated the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy which was contested in two international football tournaments in Turin in 1909 and 1911.

1931 Thomas Lipton died at his home, Osidge, in Southgate, London on 2 October. He bequeathed the majority of his fortune to his native city of Glasgow, including his yachting trophies, which are now on display at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Sir Thomas Lipton was buried alongside his parents and siblings in Glasgow's Southern Necropolis.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  • [1] Wikipedia
  • Motoring Annual and Motorist’s Year Book 1903
  1. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908