Ref NoGB1752.LTC/11
LevelAdministrative Group
TitleFamily Papers of Sir Thomas Lipton
DescriptionSir Thomas Johnstone Lipton was born on 10th May 1850 and lived at 10 Crown Street in the Hutchesontown district of Glasgow, Scotland. He was the youngest of five children (two of which had died prior to Thomas' birth) and his parents were originally from Shannock Mills near Clones in County Monaghan, Ireland. They had moved to Scotland in the 1840s. Lipton attended the parish school of St. Andrew in Glasgow Green and often helped out in his parent's small semi-basement shop at 13 Crown Street, as a child.

In November 1860 Lipton began work at A&W Kennedy, Stationers in Glassford Street, Glasgow. He later went on to work for Messrs. Tillie & Henderson of Miller Street, Glasgow and as a cabin-boy between Glasgow and Belfast with the Burns Line. However, during the winter of 1865 Lipton decided to leave Scotland and instead seek employment in the United States. Following his arrival in New York, Lipton's first work was on a tobacco plantation in Dinwiddy County between the towns of Petersburg and Richmond in Virginia. He then moved down to Coosaw Island, South Carolina and worked on a rice plantation. Here, he eventually took over in the plantation office, with the responsibility for finance and book-keeping. Lipton also worked within the Fire Corps at Charleston, South Carolina and as a tram-car operator in New Orleans, until he eventually returned to New York and worked as an assistant in a large grocery store.

In 1869, Lipton decided it was time to return to Glasgow and with a wealth of ideas and savings that he had gained from his last job in the United States, he set about his plans to open up his own grocery store within his home town. This was achieved on 10th May 1871, when his first shop was opened in Stobcross Street, Anderston.

One of Lipton's most prominent ideas was to use widespread advertising in order to sell his products and consequently hired cartoonist Willie Lockhart to draw his advertisements. They proved extremely successful and with rapidly growing profits, Lipton was soon able to open two more shops in Glasgow, one in the High Street and one in Jamaica Street. Within five years of opening in Stobcross Street, there were twenty shops altogether in the west of Scotland, trading under the name of Lipton. A warehouse was also opened at Lancefield Street in Finnieston.

In 1885 Lipton returned to the United States to expand his business even further through the establishment of the Johnstone Packing Company in Chicago. This operation was later moved to a small town in Nebraska, Omaha until 1897 but then returned to Chicago, where Lipton's became an incorporated company, known as the Cork Packing House. For his American headquarters Lipton chose a warehouse in Hoboken, New Jersey, because the huge Lipton's Tea sign he erected on it could be read from any point in New York harbour.

Back in the United Kingdom, Lipton decided that it would be beneficial to move the centre of his business to London, so between 1889 and 1890, Lipton's headquarters were relocated to Bath Street, City Road, London. Once his business had moved to London, Lipton stayed briefly in Muswell Hill before buying his home, 'Osidge' in Southgate, Middlesex. Soon after, Lipton also bought land at White Hart Lane, North London for the creation of a sports ground for his employees.

The product that had made Lipton an international celebrity was tea, which he had discovered during the 1880s when staying in Ceylon, on his way to Australia. Within just a few months of being there, Lipton owned five tea estates. The first estates he acquired were the Downall group in Haputale about two to three thousand acres in extent and including the plantations of Dambatenne, Laymastotte and Monerakande. Dambatenne is situated 210 km. from Colombo and became Lipton's favourite home when in Sri Lanka. Whilst in Ceylon, Lipton pioneered the use of a cable transport system between the steep mountainside gardens and the valley factories for more efficient production. Also, instead of selling the produced tea loose from the chest, as was the custom at that time, Lipton packed his tea in brightly-colored, eye-catching packets bearing the slogan "Straight from the tea gardens to the tea pot".

In 1898 Lipton took his private company, public as Thomas J. Lipton, Ltd. In 1927 the company was eventually taken over by Van den Bergh's and the Meadow Dairy Company. Lipton lost control of British operations but managed to retain control in America. They kept the name and paid Lipton £750,000. In 1930, with the merger taking place between Margarine Unie (Van den Bergh's and Jurgens) and Lever Brothers, Lipton's became a Unilever company.

Lipton was knighted by Queen Victoria and became Sir Thomas in 1898.. Lipton was then later honoured with the 'Freedom of Glasgow' on 2nd October 1923 at St. Andrews Hall, Glasgow and given the title of Life President and Chairman of the Company in 1927.

Sir Thomas Lipton died on 2nd March 1931 at 7.15p.m. Two simultaneous funeral services took place, one at the Church of St. Colomba's in Pont Street, London and the other in the Church of St. George in St. George's Square, off Buchanan Street, Glasgow. His grave is at Southern Necropolis, Glasgow. To his knowledge he didn't have a living relative as his mother had died in October 1889 and his father in the spring of 1890. By this time, each of his brothers and sisters had also died. Altogether his will amounted to more than £1m.

These records include: artwork; photographs of Sir Thomas Lipton; and yachting records (leaflets, photographs, postcards).
Date1890s-1989
Access StatusOpen
Access ConditionsOpen
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