ETCETERA / Design dinosaurs: 15 The Teasmade

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The Independent Culture
THE national obsession with tea-drinking that gave Britain the kettle with the spout (in the 18th century) also brought the first electric kettles (after 1893). Those early models, however, with the heating elements buried in their bases, took forever to boil and required constant watching, as they didn't switch themselves off. If your early morning cuppa was down to you, it was all just too time-consuming.

Small wonder, then, that when the Automatic Water Boiler Co advertised 'A Clock that Makes Tea]' by your bedside in 1904, it had ready appeal. Here was a Heath Robinson contraption, all springs, bells and mechanical arms, which 'calls the sleeper at a given hour, automatically lights the spirit lamp, boils a pint of water for tea, shaving and other purposes, pours it into a pot, extinguishes lamp, and finally rings second bell to signify all is ready.'

By 1920 an electrified version was available: the Tecal bedside tea-maker and night light, made by the L G Hawkins Company. Goblin (BVC) Ltd launched its version, under the 'Tea's Made' trade mark, in 1938. It was an unremarkable development of the same idea, hissing and gurgling hot water into a ceramic teapot behind a protective screen. The name, however, was apt: at a time when domestic servants were disappearing, the pun on 'maid' evoked soothing images of curtains drawn back and tinkling trays.

For 17 years Teasmades sprouted like mushrooms on Britain's bedside tables, until, in 1955, the first fast-boiling, really reliable (vapour-controlled) automatic electric kettle was introduced by Russell Hobbs. At the same time the new tea-bags made brewing easier and quicker, and instant coffee even began to challenge the sacred rite of tea-drinking itself. Quite suddenly the Teasmade, requiring bedtime preparation, was more trouble than it was worth. Today's Teasmade (now made by Swan), at pounds 49.50, costs more than three cheap electric jug kettles and three alarm clocks together. Unsurprisingly, sales are not what they used to be.