Sir Thomas Johnstone Lipton, 1st Baronet, KCVO (10 May 1848 – 2 October 1931) was a Scotsman of Ulster-Scots parentage who was a self-made man, merchant, and yachtsman. He created the Lipton tea brand and was the most persistent challenger in the history of the America’s Cup.Lipton was born in Glasgow on 10 May 1850. His parents, Thomas Lipton senior and Frances Lipton (née Johnstone), were Ulster-Scots, who came from County Fermanagh. The Liptons had been smallholders in Fermanagh for generations, but by the late 1840s, Thomas Lipton’s parents had decided to leave Ireland and move to Scotland in search of a better living for themselves and their young family. By 1847, the Liptons had settled in Glasgow. Lipton’s father would hold a number of occupations throughout the 1840s and 1850s, including working as a labourer and as a printer.Although Thomas Lipton would later state that he was born at his family’s home in Crown Street in the Gorbals in 1850, there is no record of this in the parish register for that period. However, in the 1851 census, the family were recorded as living in the north of Glasgow, with young Thomas being listed as being aged 3 years old. It would appear that he was therefore born in 1848.Thomas Lipton was educated at St. Andrew’s Parish School close to Glasgow Green between 1853 and 1863. By the early 1860s, his parents were the proprietors of a shop at 11 Crown Street in the Gorbals, where they sold ham, butter, and eggs. It was with the aim of supplementing his parents’ limited income that Thomas Lipton left school at the age of thirteen and found employment as a printers errand boy, and then as a shirtcutter.
He also enrolled at a night school, the Gorbals Youth’s School, during this period.In 1864 Lipton signed up as a cabin boy on a steamer running between Glasgow and Belfast and was captivated by life aboard the ship and the stories told by sailors who had traveled to the United States. After being let go by the steamer company, Lipton quickly used the wages he had saved to purchase passage on a ship bound for the U.S., where he would spend five years working and traveling all over the country. Lipton had a number of jobs during this time: at a tobacco plantation in Virginia, as an accountant and bookkeeper at a rice plantation in South Carolina, as a door-to-door salesman in New Orleans, a farmhand in New Jersey, and finally as a grocery assistant in New York.He returned to Glasgow in 1870, initially helping his parents run their small shop in the Gorbals. The following year he opened his first provision shop—Lipton’s Market—at 101 Stobcross Street in the Anderston area of Glasgow. This enterprise proved to be successful and Lipton soon established a chain of groceries, first across Glasgow, the rest of Scotland, until finally he had stores throughout Britain. While Lipton was expanding his empire, tea prices were falling and demand was growing among his middle class customers. In 1880, Lipton invested in the young stockyards of Omaha, Nebraska, founding a large packing plant in South Omaha which he sold to American interests in 1887. In 1888, when his empire had grown to 300 stores, he entered the tea trade and opened his tea-tasting office. He started bypassing traditional trading and wholesale distribution channels (most UK tea-trading was focused in London’s Mincing Lane) in order to sell teas at unprecedented prices to the untapped poor working class market. In order to provide his shops with goods Lipton bought plantations and in doing so – amongst other things[vague] – he established the Lipton tea brand, which remains in business as of 2013.Lipton visited Sri Lanka in the 1890s and made business deals with James Taylor, who introduced tea plantations to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) with Tamil workers from India.
Lipton’s company purchased Ceylon tea, distributing it through Europe and the USA. In 1902 he was created a baronet of Osidge in the Parish of Southgate in the County of Middlesex.King Edward VII and King George V both shared their interest in yachting with Lipton and enjoyed his company. Between 1899 and 1930 he challenged the American holders of the America’s Cup through the Royal Ulster Yacht Club five times with his yachts called Shamrock through Shamrock V. His well publicised efforts to win the cup, which earned him a specially designed cup for “the best of all losers”, made his tea brand famous in the U.S. As a self-made man Lipton, however, was no natural member of the British upper class and the Royal Yacht Squadron only admitted him shortly before his death. Lipton was inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame in 1993.Before the first Football World Cup was held in 1930, Thomas Lipton donated the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy which was contested in two international tournaments in Turin in 1909 and 1911.He also donated the Copa Lipton trophy which has been contested between Argentina and Uruguay since 1905.Lipton came to his home, Osidge, in Southgate, London, from Muswell Hill in 1892. Before moving in, he redecorated the house completely, built a new billiards room and moved the existing pathway as far away from the house as possible. Before the coming of the motor car, his home’s newly enlarged stables contained at least three pairs of fast carriage horses, of which he was proud. He was driven to his offices in City Road each day, and did not use the nearby railway.Sir Thomas Lipton helped medical voluntary organizations during World War I. He gave to disposal his yachts to Red Cross, Scottish Women’s Hospitals Committee of Dr Elsie Inglis, Serbian Supporting Fund etc. for transport of medical volunteers (doctors and nurses) same as medical supply. During the winter 1914–1915 and spring 1915 in Serbia was several British Empire hospital teams working together with Serbian military and civil doctors and nurses. Catastrophic typhus epidemic killed thousands of civilians, wounded and unwounded soldiers and war prisoners. But first victims were medical staffs. Sir Thomas Lipton went aboard his yacht Erin to Thessaloníki over Sardinia, Malta and Athens. The aim of his travel was Serbia at the moment when epidemic was at the top. He visited hospitals and medical missions in Belgrade, Kragujevac, Niš, Vrnjačka Banja and some more.
He was very popular at the people due to his modest requests. He asked only for modest lodging, requested for meals only what common people eat in these war conditions. He liked to pose with Serbian officers and soldiers at photographs. Except he visited many hospitals encouraging doctors, nurses and soldiers, he found time to visit traditional fairs, to take a part in blackberry gathering and fishing. Sir Thomas Lipton was declared for the honor citizen of the town of Niš.Author Herbert W Newby writes in a book about Southgate in 1949: “Sir Thomas was proud of his successes in life, and any reference to him made in any publication was always carefully cut out and pasted into a book kept for this purpose. These books formed a most interesting section of his library. He was a very genial man to meet and always put a stranger quickly at ease. I met him on several occasions and found him without any form of snobbery.”He was created a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in March 1901 by King Edward VII.A portrait of Lipton appeared on the cover of Time magazine on 3 November 1924.He died at Osidge on 2 October 1931 and bequeathed the majority of his fortune to his native city of Glasgow, including his yachting trophies, which are now on display at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Sir Thomas Lipton was buried alongside his parents and siblings in Glasgow’s Southern Necropolis.Agency.