The modern-day kettle is such a ubiquitous item in the kitchen, used to make cups of tea and heat water for cooking everyday food. But have you ever found yourself wondering who invented the kettle or its past as you enjoy a hot cup of tea?
Most of us undoubtedly remember a whistling kettle from when we were young, but the history and evolution of the kettle have taken place over many centuries and in countries around the world.
A Little Bit About the History of Tea
Although green tea had been drunk in China for hundreds of years, in Britain, it was very much an expensive drink imported from Asia that was only enjoyed by the very wealthy. This was only until the British East India Company expanded its trade with China. Afterwards, tea became more available and less expensive.
And so began our love affair with the kettle and making tea for ourselves and our guests when we have visitors. Tea kettles and tea cups are now an intrinsic part of our kitchen setup, and we choose modern designs to match our kitchen décor.
Types of Kettle Through the Ages
Throughout tea kettle history, there are three main types that most of us would recognise:
- Early kettles that were placed over a fire
- Stovetop or whistling kettles
- Electric kettles
The First Kettles
Early kettles were made as vessels for heating food or producing boiled water and were positioned on or above a fire, but they were very much recognisable to what we now know as the kettle.
In China, they discovered the use of boiling water to remove impurities and also that they could add green tea leaves to the vessel to achieve a flavoured drink. Discovering the same fact, in Europe, wheat grain was added to water to flavour it, and so was born what we know as malt beer!
In Old English, the word for kettle was ‘cetel’, and in Middle English, it was ‘ketill’. In terms of materials, copper kettles were more common as they conduct the heat well and in China, porcelain was often used.
Stovetop kettles are made from metal and have a flat bottom, a handle, a lid and a spout. Many stovetop kettles will whistle when the water has reached boiling point. These types were introduced at the beginning of the 20th century and used until the invention of the electric kettle.
The whistling kettle was invented by a man named Harry Bramson and worked by the steam building up as the water boils; this, in turn, creates a vibration which becomes louder as the vibrations increase with the temperature of the water chamber until a whistling sound is emitted as the steam escapes.
The electric kettle uses a heating element to boil water. This was the first plug-in model in the history of the modern kettle, and although it was an important development, the first electric kettle still took around 12 minutes to come to a boil!
The History and Who Invented the Kettle
As mentioned above, the tea kettle has been in use in many different forms for many hundreds of years, but there is no clear date for when the first one was produced. However, the electric kettle that we are familiar with came about in the 19th century. It was invented by the Carpenter Electrical Company in 1891. It was the first kettle that had an electric heating element.
However, this first model took over 10 minutes to boil water as the heating element was housed in a separate compartment in the kettle’s base, away from the water. The use of separate chambers was an inefficient method to heat water, even in comparison to earlier cast iron kettles which were placed directly over a flame.
Technology Moves On
In 1922, a British engineer named Leslie Large designed the technology that moved the kettle into the modern era. He designed a coil that was wound around a core and housed in a metal tube to be safely placed directly into the water. The Swan company brought this kettle to market, revolutionising the way people were able to make tea quickly.
From the early days of kettles produced by the Carpenter Electrical Company, it wasn’t until 1955 that the company titled Russell Hobbs, founded by William Russell and Peter Hobbs introduced the first fully automatic kettle. This was made from polished chrome, and the new electric kettle contained a thermostat, which would cut off the current when the water reached boiling point.
From the first kettle invented to modern-day companies producing plastic kettles, the history of the kettles is a long and rich one, filled with many developments along the way. And where would we be today without the automatic kettle for boiling water in our busy lives?
There are even companies now producing sophisticated automatic tea kettles that use technology to intelligently brew different types of tea without much contribution or effort from the kettle user!
So, next time you are sitting down to a wonderful hot brew: take a moment to contemplate the long history and important developments along the way that have brought us to the simple task of simply flicking a switch on our kettle to get hot water and that perfect cup of tea!