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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Giant Steaming Tea Kettle, Boston

City Hall Government Center, Boston

At Court & Tremont Streets hangs the giant tea kettle "sign" of the old Oriental Tea Company. This huge tea pot was manufactured in 1873 by a company called Hicks & Badger.

The tea pot was a famous tourist attraction for many years. The reason is due to a huge publicity stunt. On January 1st 1875, a contest was held to guess the capacity of the kettle, and Boston's Sealer of Weights & Measures officially measured it.

More than 10,000 spectators filled the square that day. Eight boys and a tall man had concealed themselves inside the kettle and appeared before measuring started, building excitement for the event. A total of 13,000 guesses were submitted, that were quickly organized and sorted

Each measure poured into the kettle was carefully checked by the city's inspector. A judge was present to observe the process to ensure the contest was fair. A large blackboard was updated after each measure, and it took more than an hour to fill the pot. At 1:05 pm, the closest guess was announced, and a great cheer came from the crowd.

The tea kettle's capacity is 227 gallons, 2 quarts, 1 pint, and 3 gills. Eight people that participated in the contest had guessed to within 3 gills of the above quantity, and were declared winners. The winners received one-eighth of a chest of tea, or about 5 pounds each.

The tea kettle contains an apparatus within it that produces steam, and in winter it resembles a giant steaming pot of tea. The kettle is an excellent advertising tool, having outlived the Oriental Tea Company by many years.

Ironically, the shop located beneath the teapot today - is a Starbucks.

(Information courtesy of Celebrate Boston)

Thank you to Uniquely Tea reader Melanie for telling me about this!


Melanie said...

You're welcome! You know, when I go look at it, it is so hard for me to believe it could hold 223 gallons! It just doesn't look that big.

Jason Witt said...

That's such a cool story. What a publicity stunt. And it isn't surprising to me that the Starbucks is underneath the big kettle these days. It makes me think of how my teaware is going to last a long time. I'm acquiring all sterling silver cups and teapot, and I might add more like a sterling kettle later on. The pieces are older than me already and will likely outlive me yet. --Teaternity

parTea lady said...

What a great story and history on the giant tea kettle. I enjoyed seeing it.

Kitty said...

Oh wow, that's such a great story. Wouldn't you love to have a tea shop there, or even to visit a tea shop there. how great.

Anonymous said...

I grew up just outside Boston for my first 9 years. Just went back to visit last week and saw the kettle which I hadn't seen since then (nearly 40 years). Although I had totally "forgotten" it, I instantly recognized it as a familiar landmark when I saw it - right up there with the CITGO sign!

Anonymous said...

The original larger kettle hung in the doorway of the Oriental Tea Company in Scollay Square from some time in the 1870s. As a kid in the 1950s, I recall seeing the big steaming kettle at the old location. The West End neighborhood was demolished for "Urban Renewal" by the BRA in the late 1950s era. Taken down and in poor condition with pipes corroded within, the kettle was placed in storage by the City of Boston for perhaps later restoration. As the story goes, that big 19th Century kettle was at some point lost or mistakenly disposed of as junk. It's still a mystery!

The smaller version hanging at the end of the Sears Block today is a reproduction dating to the 1960s. Have an original glass plate negative and will see if I can post the picture of the Oriental Tea Company building in Scollay Square taken in 1895. That photo shows the original jumbo steaming tea kettle hanging inside the front entrance.

Anonymous said...

When I lived in Boston in the early 90's there was a restaurant on the 2nd floor that served sandwiched, clam chowder, etc. The restaurant was called The Steaming Kettle. You could sit by the window and be in the background as tourist snapped pictures of the kettle! Is was one of my favorite lunch spots.

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