Date: Fri 12-Mar-1999
Upham Brought Tea Bags And Miniature Golf To Hawleyville
(with file photos)
BY JAN HOWARD
The tea bag and the original machine that produced it were invented by a man
who owned a Hawleyville business in the early part of this century.
In 1916, William A. Upham, after moving to the Hanover section of Newtown four
years before, rented the Baker store and started a business selling peanut
butter. One hundred pounds of peanut butter a day were produced there in 1916.
Along with the peanut butter, Mr Upham also packaged tapioca and other dry
groceries and sold them from a small ground floor shop.
Mr Upham's business thrived. However, two years after beginning the
Hawleyville operations, the outbreak of World War I cut off his supply of
peanut oil. He then turned the building into a factory to make tea balls
(later called tea bags).
Abel Upham, Mr Upham's father, was the United States Tea Commissioner under
President Cleveland, which may explain William Upham's interest in tea and its
The idea for tea bags supposedly came during a dinner he was enjoying in the
Cafe de Beau Arts in New York. He observed a crude homemade cloth bag filled
with tea leaves being used to brew tea in a small pot. He thought that if tea
could be packaged in smaller cloth bags to form tea balls, one could brew a
single fresh cup of tea with just boiling water, rather than having to brew an
He convinced Thomas Lipton to let him package his tea in small tea balls under
the Lipton label for the New York hotel and restaurant trade.
Upham Food Products, Inc
On August 12, 1921, The Newtown Bee reported the sale of the building and land
to Upham Food Products, Inc, as follows: "The Upham Food Products, Inc, 329
Greenwich Street, New York City, has purchased the large factory building at
Hawleyville, which it has been operating under lease as a food packaging and
tea package plant for the last six years.
"The purchase also includes over two acres of ground with New York, New Haven
and Hartford Railroad lines and sidings directly connecting storage warehouse,
etc., being all the land and buildings heretofore held by the Baker estate.
"The main building will continue to be used for packaging tea exclusively -
especially to take care of the rapidly growing demand for the individual
service tea balls.
"It contains 25,000 square feet of floor space and employs at present upwards
of 50 hands on patent tea ball packaging machines, packing for the leading tea
merchants of America."
Over the years, Mr Upham's businesses provided employment for 50 or more local
residents. They made tea balls at the rate of 100,000 a day.
The first tea balls consisted of a teaspoon of loose tea packaged in cheese
cloth, which left the tea with a "clothy" taste. Mr Upham approached the
Johnson & Johnson Company, and with them, developed a tasteless gauze. These
gauze-encased tea balls were then packaged 25 to a box and shipped out to
distributors throughout the world.
During the 1920s, Mr Upham also began packaging tea balls for other tea
companies, such as Chase and Sanborn, Tetley and Salada, as well as A&P and
other chain stores.
About the time of World War II, filter paper was substituted for gauze and the
modern tea bag was born. This is when the term "tea bag" was substituted for
To produce his first tea balls, Mr Upham invented a tea ball-making machine
made of wood. It could turn out about 2,000 tea balls a day. In 1928, the
Automatic Scale Corporation of Boston designed a power-driven tea ball machine
that could produce 2,000 an hour. At the time of Mr Upham's death in 1949,
there were machines with a capacity of over 10,000 bags an hour.
Mr Upham was apparently good to his employees. On December 3, 1921, The Bee
reported: "Upham Food Products Company gives employees Thanksgiving dinner.
"Thanksgiving Day was celebrated at the Upham Food Products, Inc, Hawleyville,
on Wednesday, a bounteous dinner being provided for the employees, 50 odd in
number, including the official staff and entire personnel of the
"At 12:30 pm, four long tables, seating 14 each, were spread in the large
factory restaurant and a merry crowd did justice to the luscious viands from
soup to nuts. The menu was as follows: stewed oysters, olives, celery, roast
turkey, cranberry sauce, Belgian hare, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, plum
pudding, butter sauce, pumpkin pie, oranges, almonds, pecans, raisins, Skookum
apples, tea, coffee, and milk. Cigars, cigarettes.
"John Pierce, general superintendent, presided and at the executive table sat
W.A. Upham, president of the company, and A.H. Ballard, vice president.
"Some 25 girls from Danbury are included among the workers. They pack the
individual service tea balls, which are the principal product of the Upham
factories at Hawleyville and New York City."
Mr Upham later retired and sold the building, which became DeSherbinin
Products, just before World War II. The building, which still stands, was
built in 1877 to serve as a store for the A.J. Baker Furniture Co.
Subsequently, it served as a grain and feed store, a lace curtain factory, and
a succession of general stores.
When DeSherbinin took over the plant in 1952, a small wooden tea ball machine
was found along with several pieces of Japanese furniture which Mr Upham had
Upham Japanese Tea Garden
An offshoot of Mr Upham's interest in tea was the Upham Japanese Tea Garden,
which he opened in Hawleyville in June of 1928 on the west side of Route 25,
just north of the railroad tracks. The elaborate tea garden had a restaurant,
gardens and lakes specially dredged and spanned by rustic, Oriental-type
bridges. Thirty-two large Catalpa, or umbrella, trees were planted to further
the effect. The landscape was also enhanced by electric lights around the
It was Mr Upham who was responsible for bringing electricity to Hawleyville in
1928, first for his tea house and factory, and then for anyone else who wanted
to hook up.
The tea house contained pieces from Mr Upham's large collection of Japanese
and Chinese furniture and antiquities. It consisted of a private dining room,
a reception area, an Oriental gift shop, and an enclosed dining porch that
looked out over the pond. In front, there was a life-size figure of a Chinese
Canoes and rowboats were available for the use of tea garden patrons as were
bath houses where a person could change into a bathing suit and take advantage
of the sandy beach Mr Upham had created at one end of the pond.
In 1930, Mr Upham extended the pond and built an island, which was the site of
a miniature golf course. It was said to be the largest miniature golf course
in Connecticut at that time.
The tea house was a big success, and many civic and organizational meetings
were held there.
However, whether Mr Upham grew tired of it or whether it began to lose money
during the Depression, the tea house complex had closed by the end of 1933.
Information for this story was gathered from the League of Women Voters'
Newtown CT Directions and Images, vintage issues of The Newtown Bee, and
William Abel Upham and the Invention of the Tea Bag by town Historian Daniel
Cruson, which appeared in The Newtown Historical Society's newsletter, The