The teabag. You may love it or loathe it, but regardless of how you feel about it it’s probably with us until the universe goes dark. This tiny gizmo is said to have been invented a little over a century ago by a New York-based tea merchant whose customers decided to try steeping the silk bags that he used to package tea samples. Which is a tale that doesn’t seem to be substantiated by any hard evidence I’ve ever seen but that’s beside the point for purposes of this article.
There’s plenty of hard evidence for various other tea bag-related developments, as I discovered on a recent browse through the files of the United States Patent Office (by way of Google Patents). Take, for instance, this patent awarded in 1925 to one Johan Fredrick Malm, for what he described as “new and useful Improvements in Bag Ties,” for individual tea bags. His stated goal was to make ties that could be made cheaply, but would also be more durable and efficient.
Two years later Simon Cooper, of the Cooper Tea Packet Company, received a patent he’d applied for six years earlier for a “simple, inexpensive packet” for tea. Said packets, as pictured in the patent drawings, are heart-shaped, but other than that are not much different from the bags in use today. Nine years after his 1921 application for a Tea-Measuring Machine for filling tea bags, Cooper was awarded a patent for this device. For a patent for another such device, look here.
Cooper was not the only person to patent a tea bag, by the way, not by a long shot. In 1928, inventor William Abbot patented an “improved and novel” tea bag design, which he felt remedied some of the problems of its predecessors. In 1940, Olga Jablon received a patent for an imaginative variation that attempted to tackle the problem of what to do with a wet, dripping tea bag after you’ve made your cup of tea. She tackled this problem by designing a small dish-shaped drip cup to take the place of the tea bag tag.
Of course, there’s no part of the tea bag-making process that’s too small that it hasn’t been subject to a patent filing or three. Take those little tags on the end of your tea bag string, for instance. In 1927 Edward Ovington received a patent for the Process of Making Tea-Ball Tags, though from the looks of things it appears that they would be equally well-suited for tea bags. Four years later tea bag whiz Simon Cooper also patented a type of tea bag tag and the method for attaching to the string.
Evolution of the Tea Bag
What’s Your (Teabag) Type?
Have Bagged Teas Gotten a Bad Rap?
Putting the Squeeze on Tea Bags
No Strings Attached (to My Teabag)
Are You Tasting the Tea or the Teabag?
Making the Switch from Bagged to Loose Tea
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