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Good biographies are about much more than their subjects, and "A Full Cup" is certainly a good and exhaustive biography of Thomas J. Lipton. Here are a few quick facts about "Sir Tea:"
* Born in 1848 in Glasgow, grew up in the slums, went to America as a lad, saved up a grubstake and learned some crazy American commercial ways
* Back in Glasgow he opened a grocery store, advertised it with pig parades, jingles, and other crazy stuff
* Added more stores, MANY stores, integrated vertically by going into meat packing in the U.S. and buying tea plantations in Ceylon
* Had more money than Croesus, was a bigger publicity hound than P.T. Barnum, and (like Forrest Gump) when any big thing happened, he was there
* Hung out with the Prince of Wales (Bertie), later King Edward VII; though being in trade and from the slums, he was never quite comme il faut with the upper class, always "the king's grocer"
* Was never married or known to be in a relationship, and the book suggests that he was homosexual but, with admirable editorial restraint, never mentions it again
* Spent millions of dollars building yachts and mounting five unsuccessful challenges for the America's Cup between 1899 and 1930; America loved him and presented him with a cup for being "the best of all losers"
* Lived the fullness of his years, and though his grocery chain is gone, his tea empire lives on under an international conglomerate
Author and journalist Michael D'Antonio presents Lipton's life in the context of the forces that shaped his success. He went into business in the right time and place, as Glasgow was embracing the Industrial Revolution in the last quarter of the 19th century: its population was swelling and incomes were rising, so that the demand for nutritious food was unprecedented as "trade transformed the national diet." Shipping and transport were developing. A resourceful, hardworking businessman not afraid to invest his money had a great chance of success, and Lipton was all that.
Eventually Lipton began to think about selling tea. Tea had until recently been taxed heavily and sourced almost exclusively from China, expensive to ship and prone to spoilage. But the British Empire began to use India and Ceylon to supply tea to Great Britain; one of the many benefits of having dominion territories. Through industrial espionage, the superior Chinese tea was smuggled to Ceylon and thrived there. Now, with tea much more affordable, demand for good, reasonably priced tea exploded--and Lipton was there. He moved his tea sales into the U.S. in time to take advantage of the temperance movement and Prohibition, offering a stimulating, good-quality product, attractively packaged. With his picture on every packet, he WAS Lipton's Tea.
At every stage of his career, D'Antonio fits Lipton into the social fabric as if it had been created just to showcase his talents; if he had not existed, the Gilded Age would have had to create him. Well, it did, and "A Full Cup" is a pleasure to read in every way, but especially as social history.
While we get a front-row seat for the man's adventurous life, we somehow don't get to know him personally. Though he was steeped in his business (and all of his activities were business, in a way) I would have expected and welcomed a more intimate look at Thomas Lipton. There are no personal letters and very little personal detail. I don't know if this is because there WAS no private man behind the public face, or if it was the author's choice. But "A Full Cup" is the book we have, and it's a glorious, larger-than-life book and well worth a reader's time.
Linda Bulger, 2010
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- Publié sur Amazon.com
An entertaining, comprehensive biography of Sir Thomas Lipton, who founded the Lipton's retail grocery business in the United Kingdom in the late 19th century, and went on to found the global Lipton's Tea empire that still flourishes today as a Unilever acquisition.
Thomas Lipton's family fled from famine-struck Ireland to Scotland in 1847, only to settle in Glasgow's worst slum, the Gorbals. At age 17, Thomas emigrated to America, where at first he labored in the post-Civil War cotton fields, but later obtained a coveted job at a famous New York City department store, A.T. Stewart's. At A.T. Stewart's, Thomas picked up a bit of retail wisdom that served him well for the rest of his life: "The man who on his trade relies/Must either bust or advertise."
At age 19, Thomas staged a triumphant return (by horse-drawn cab) to his parent's Glasgow home and miniscule grocery shop. Soon after, using his hard-won savings, he opened his first Lipton's grocery. From then on, he applied his advertising genius and amazing entrepreneurial talents to building a chain of successful grocery stores that would always be known for quality goods and low prices.
By age 32, Thomas was a rich man, although he always remained a favorite of commoners on both sides of the Atlantic, even after he became an intimate friend of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward) and regularly associated with millionaires, military heroes, and aristocrats. Throughout his life, Thomas focused on obtaining publicity for Lipton's, making use of "gimmicks"--now seeming rather commonplace--such as delivery trucks emblazoned with "Lipton's", men hired to herd pigs (Lipton's orphans) through Glasgow streets, and giant cheeses (up to 3,500 pounds) that were imported from America, accompanied by parades and transatlantic media coverage. In 1898, Thomas was knighted by Queen Victoria.
From 1899 to 1920, Sir Thomas built four unsuccessful America's Cup challengers (Shamrock I, II, III, IV). About half of A FULL CUP is devoted to these years of Sir Thomas' life. Sir Thomas was always a gracious loser, which he could afford to be, because he was obtaining priceless publicity for the Lipton's empire. A FULL CUP includes quite a bit of historical detail about the preparations for each America's Cup challenge, the races themselves, and the parades and publicity that surrounded each event. However, it is about Sir Thomas Lipton's life, not yacht racing, so it probably adds little to what is already known about the history of the America's Cup races.
A FULL CUP is an example of biography at its best. It presents a well-rounded picture of a truly one-of-a-kind individual, who started with nothing, and, through his own hard work, became one of the wealthiest men in the world, a philanthropist, and a popular hero. In particular, I enjoyed this book because there has always been Lipton's tea on my kitchen pantry shelf. It amazed me to learn that the brand was founded by a single, colorful, successful entrepreneur--a businessman who was far ahead of his time in understanding the value of advertising and publicity.