Part 1: The Archivist & After


By James Norwood Pratt

William Harrison Ukers was the founding father of business journalism. He was a New York City businessman in the Gilded Age of the Vanderbilts, Morgans and Whitneys and like them he made his mark, founding the Audit Board of Circulation among other roles. But his monument is his love child, the Tea & Coffee Trade Journal, which he founded in 1899 at a time when tea and coffee were still the most actively traded international commodities, having accounted for about one-third of all ocean-borne cargo in the nineteenth century.

No tea enterprise from Tokyo to Timbuktu escaped Mr. Ukers’s notice and for 35 years he collected richly detailed material on the trade. This appeared in two massive volumes aptly entitled All About Tea, published in an edition of only 600 copies in 1935. Before they were finally reprinted in the 1990’s, these rare volumes sold for over a thousand dollars the set and still today remain an indispensable sourcebook on tea history.

By the 1930’s Japan and its colonial possession Taiwan supplied about 40 percent of America’s tea.  This was mostly green or oolong distributed by firms like the Jewel Tea Company of Chicago, which eventually employed almost 1500 sales people who serviced almost a million households door-to-door.  The country’s leading supermarket chain was the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company. Good tea was big business.

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