If you’re like me – or the majority of the people on Earth – you probably don’t give a lot of thought to tea kettle whistles. All that really matters is that they work when the water starts to boil. Not so long ago, while writing an article for this site on the science of tea kettle whistles (yes, there is a science of tea kettle whistles), I got to wondering about the origins of this device. Was there a time when people using tea kettles had to make do without whistles, or did they always exist? And who was the first person to come up with this simple yet effective device?
Well, let’s see. It’s obvious that a trip to the patent office is called for – at least in the virtual sense. But first, a visit to the web, where a few sites that appear to be less than definitive suggest that the tea kettle and/or kettle whistle came about thusly – “Sholom Borgelman (later changed to Borman) had a sheet metal company in London just after WW1 and invented the whistling kettle.”
Pursuing this line of evidence does nothing more than lead to other sites that repeat this assertion (myth?) with no additional evidence. If Borgelman/Borman is responsible for inventing the whistling kettle, then it doesn’t appear that he saw fit to patent the device.
However, Charles E. Coats sort of did that, in 1890, when he received a patent for an item simply described as a Tea-kettle. While he’s hardly the first person to receive such a patent, his was the first I was able to locate that made mention of a whistle. Though, in this case it appears that he was primarily concerned with the level of the water growing too low, as noted here, “the object of my invention is to construct a tea-kettle into which the water may be introduced at any time without danger of burning the hands, and which shall also be provided with an automatic signal to indicate when the water is getting low.”
Which is a tea kettle whistle nonetheless, though perhaps not quite in the way we think of it. For that we have to start with Jorgen Madsen’s 1915 patent for a Combined Tea-kettle and Signal, which appears to be the first to handle the whistling function in a manner that most of us would be familiar with.
See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.
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