The Big Cheese

From: Ritz and Escoffier: The Hotelier, The Chef, and the Rise of the Leisure Class (2018), by Luke Barr:

“Cesar and Marie Ritz arrived together in London in early July 1899 to prepare for the opening (of the Carlton Hotel, on the corner of Haymarket and Pall Mall). They’d come across the Channel to Southampton and, on the way over, had seen Sir Thomas Liptons new yacht, the Shamrock, anchored in Hythe. It was a stunning boat, and would be competing in the America’s Cup race later that year.

Lipton had long fascinated Ritz; he followed the businessman’s career in the newspapers. (He had admired the flamboyant Barney Barnato in the same way, although in the case of Barnato, Ritz actually knew him personally.) Like Ritz, Lipton was a self-made man. He’d been born poor in Glasgow and had founded a chain of grocery and provision shops called Lipton’s Markets, and then made a fortune importing and selling tea.

They were the same age, Ritz (born 23 February 1850) and Lipton (born 10 May 1848) – contemporaries, Ritz would often say…”

From: The tea tycoon who was ‘the world’s best loser’ By Calum Watson (BBC Scotland News website) 23 September 2018:

“…In early December 1881, a steamer docked in Glasgow, carrying an extraordinary cargo from America. The world’s largest cheese.

The cheese, which was two feet thick and with a circumference of 14ft (4m), was watched by hundreds of onlookers as it was transported by traction engine to the Lipton’s store in the High Street – where it was found to be too large to fit through the door.

Undeterred, the parade continued to the Lipton’s Jamaica Street store (which fortunately boasted a wider doorway) where the cheese was manhandled into the shop window.

Nicknamed Jumbo, for a fortnight crowds marvelled at the spectacle, said to be the product of milk from 800 cows and the labour of 200 dairymaids.

As a publicity stunt it was already a success – but Tommy Lipton had another surprise up his sleeve.

In a ruse worthy of Willy Wonka, he turned the giant cheese into a golden wonder by hiding a large quantity of gold sovereigns inside it.

A few days before Christmas, dressed in a white suit, Lipton began cutting up the monster.

Policemen struggled to maintain order while his assistants wrapped the slices and handed them out to the legion of customers who had gathered in the hope of a lucky purchase.

It was a piece of theatre from a man who was riding a wave of remarkable success, whose grocery stores were spreading far and wide – and a world apart from his childhood in the poverty stricken Gorbals area of Glasgow.

Born in 1848, the son of immigrants from County Fermanagh, across the Irish Sea, Lipton’s first lessons in retail came when his father set up a small shop, selling basic provisions in the overcrowded district on the south bank of the Clyde…

…In May 1890, Lipton travelled to Sri Lanka to buy his first tea plantation.

Just like the Ulster farmers who supplied his first shops, they traded exclusively with Lipton stores – and straight away he put his competitors at a disadvantage.

“Everyone bought through the same location – Mincing Lane in London – where teas were blended but the quality was not reliable,” says biographer Michael D’Antonio.

“Sometimes it would be very good, other times it would be mouldy and sometimes you’d buy a packet of tea, and it would all be bad.

“He got the idea to standardise the blend and package it in a way that was consistently fresh and tasted the same when you bought it.”…

…when Lipton applied to join the prestigious Royal Yacht Squadron he discovered even vast wealth and prestige were not always enough to overcome snobbery. They turned him down.

Instead, he joined the Royal Ulster Yacht Club, based in Bangor, County Down.

Lipton’s first challenge in 1899 won the hearts of many Irish Americans.

His yacht was named Shamrock – and while he lost the race, in other ways he was a winner.

Everyone was talking about Sir Thomas Lipton – and Lipton the brand was bigger than ever…

…Lipton was to make two more bids for the America’s Cup – coming tantalisingly close to success in 1920 but “that auld mug”, as he called the trophy, always eluded him.

But the good grace with which he accepted defeat earned him goodwill and admiration across America.

After his fifth and final attempt in 1930, the Hollywood actor Will Rogers began a campaign, asking the American public to donate a dollar to purchase a gold “loving cup” to celebrate the perseverance and sportsmanship of the world’s “most cheerful loser”.

Presented to him by the Mayor of New York, the lid was decorated with carved shamrocks. The inscription read: “In the name of hundreds of thousands of Americans and well-wishers of Sir Thomas Johnstone Lipton.”…”

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