Thomas Lipton

(1850—1931) grocer and yachtsman

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(1850–1931), founder of a goods retail chain which by the 1890s was the largest in the world. Born in Glasgow, his first job was as an errand boy for his parents who, having migrated from Ireland, had set up as small grocers. This filial duty was combined with several casual tasks until he sailed for America in 1865, where he appears to have been similarly aimless until he gained employment with a prosperous grocer in New York. Returning to Glasgow in 1869 with $500 in savings and a clear appreciation of American retailing methods, Lipton established his first ‘Irish Market’ at Stobcross, specializing in imported ham, butter, and eggs. By 1878 he had opened three more such shops in Glasgow. The pace then quickened: stores elsewhere in Scotland were followed by others in the English provinces and in London. Selling an ever-widening range of food products (see diet) at prices lower than the traditional ‘family provision merchant’, in carefully located, well-appointed shops, staffed by smartly dressed assistants, the growth of Lipton's—which ultimately depended upon aggressive advertising and publicity stunts—was phenomenal. Working tirelessly and retaining his profits within the business, Lipton kept costs down by backward integration, acquiring farms and tea plantations, curing capacity, jam-making, bottling, and meat-packing plants.


From The Oxford Companion to Scottish History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: British History.

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