Boston’s steaming kettle is 150 years old


By Michael Perna Jr., Contributing Writer

Boston’s iconic steaming kettle, now 150 years old, graces the façade of a Starbucks coffee shop in Government Center.
Boston’s iconic steaming kettle, now 150 years old, graces the façade of a Starbucks coffee shop in Government Center.

BOSTON – December of 2023 was the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. Last year also marked the 150th anniversary of a related and iconic part of everyday life in the city―what is purportedly the world’s largest tea kettle. 

Promotional idea

The year was 1873. The Oriental Tea Company was looking for a way to promote its sales, so it came up with the idea of a giant copper tea pot, made by a company called Hicks and Badger, which was hung up over the business.  One source described the reason for the teapot being built was to easily advertise the company’s products to the large number of non-English speaking immigrants that called Boston home at the time.

In 1875, the company held a contest―tickets were sold to the public which allowed people to guess how many gallons of water the 300-pound teapot held. In addition, as a larger publicity stunt, they could guess how many men and boys the pot could hold. The correct answer to the first question turned out to be 275 gallons of water. Actually, the exact amount was 277 gallons, two quarts, one pint and three gills―a gill being a very old form of measurement for liquids. The amount was certified by the city’s Sealer of Weights and Measures―it took over an hour to find out exactly how much the kettle held. This information was then inscribed on one side of the pot.

The answer to the second question was one man and eight boys, who climbed out of the pot in front of a crowd, estimated by one source at ten thousand people, that had gathered for the event. It must be noted that the man and boys climbed out of the teapot before it was filled with the water used to measure its capacity.

Relocation during 20th century

Over the years, the Scollay Square neighborhood where the tea shop was located had declined badly, becoming known as a red-light district. In the mid-1960s, the area was redeveloped to make way for the Government Center complex. The Oriental Tea Shop, along with many other businesses, was evicted to make way for the new project. The tea kettle itself was moved to another spot nearby at 63-65 Court Street, which was named the Steaming Tea Kettle Coffee Shop. The business changed hands in 1988 and was renamed the Croissant Du Jour, then later became one of the locations of the locally-based Coffee Connection chain. In 1997, it became a Starbucks.

An enduring attraction

Kamamon Hiraki, a manager at the Starbucks that has the kettle, said that patrons are “Absolutely amazed by it.” He said that the kettle has a water system that allows it to steam consistently. The hissing clouds of steam constantly draw attention to the business from the large crowds of businesspeople, tourists and local residents who pass by daily.

“People come in all the time, look at the mural of the teapot in our entryway, then ask about whether we have any ‘merch’ (relating to the teapot) for sale,” explained Hiraki. “It is a pretty cool monument!”

The huge teapot is indeed a monument to Boston’s long and historic past, one that hopefully will continue to intrigue future generations for many years to come.



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