TH2022 Ep15 Thomas Lipton

Season 2022 – Talk 15 – Thomas Lipton

In Thomas Lipton we hear the second of Jo Watson’s talks with the theme ‘some inherit wealth, others create their own fortunes’. Thomas Lipton is a classic story of a ‘self made man’.

Click a thumbnail below to view the image gallery that accompanies the talk.

Family and early years:

The Liptons were longstanding smallholders in County Fermanagh. In the late 1840s Thomas Lipton’s parents leave Ireland because of the Great Famine of 1845. They move to Scotland and, by 1847, settle in Glasgow.

Thomas Lipton is born in a poor area of the city on 10 May 1848. His  siblings, three brothers and one sister, all die in infancy, but Thomas, the youngest, survives.

He goes to St Andrew’s Parish School close to Glasgow Green between 1853 and 1863. By the early 1860s his parents own a shop at 11 Crown Street in the Gorbals selling ham, butter and eggs. Thomas leaves school aged thirteen so that he can supplement his parents’ limited income. He finds work as a printer’s errand boy, then later as a shirt cutter.


In 1864 Lipton becomes a cabin boy on a steamer sailing between Glasgow and Belfast. He purchases passage on a ship bound for the U.S.

Lipton spends five years working and travelling all over the country. He works at a tobacco plantation in Virginia, as an accountant and book-keeper at a rice plantation in South Carolina, a door-to-door salesman in New Orleans, a farmhand in New Jersey, and finally as a grocery assistant in New York.

It is in the US that he learns the power of advertising.

Building his business:

He returns to Glasgow in 1870 and initially helps his parents in their small shop in the Gorbals. In 1871 he opens his first shop — Lipton’s Market. It is very successful and he establishes a chain of grocery shops. First across Glasgow, then the rest of Scotland, until he has stores throughout Britain.

In 1880 Lipton invests in stockyards in Omaha, Nebraska and opens a large packing plant in South Omaha. He enters the tea trade in 1888, bypassing the traditional trading and wholesale distribution channels, selling teas at low prices.

Lipton visits British Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1890 and, with James Taylor, develops the tea industry in the country. He establishes the Lipton tea brand which becomes a market leader in the US.


He is interested in yachting and between 1899 and 1930 challenges the American holders of the America’s Cup five times. His yachts are all called Shamrock, running to Shamrock V. Sadly he is unsuccessful but is presented with a specially designed cup for ‘the best of all losers’. This helps make his tea famous in the United States.

He also sponsors a number of sports awards, many in the countries where his company operates.

Listen to the podcast and hear Jo tell the full story.

About this podcast:

This is an edited recording of a talk given to the Farnham u3a World History  Group.

It is not possible to use some of the images from the original talks for copyright reasons.

The Farnham u3a site is here.

This podcast is also available through Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Castbox, Deezer, PodchaserSpotifyStitcher and Vurbl and others.

AKM Music licenses Media Magazine for use as the theme music.

© The MrT Podcast Studio and Farnham u3a World History Group 2018 – 2023

Author: Tim D

In the early 1970s Mr Timothy & his Phonograph was a popular mobile disco around Leeds University and Tim was known as MrT. Tim also spent 9 years broadcasting a weekly programme on Hospital Radio in Wakefield. He worked for more than 40 years for large industrial organisations and spent his last 15 years in global commercial management roles. Following retirement he started making podcasts in 2017.