Posted in Kafevend Blog
The subject of the Kafevend blog today is a household appliance that we all take for granted here in Britain, but that our special friends across the Atlantic have never really taken to. We're talking about none other than the trusty electric kettle.
First off, let's consider the history of the kettle. Kettles have been around in one form or another for quite a while. The word itself is derived from the Old Norse 'ketill', meaning cauldron, which rather handily points to the kettle's precursor. A kettle was a useful tool back hundreds and even thousands of years ago from a health perspective, as boiling the water would kill off potentially harmful bacteria and the like. When in more recent years the stove came in to use, obviously the kettle didn't require much in the way of modification- you just put it on the stove instead of over a fire.
You might be surprised to learn that the first electric kettles date back to the end of the 19th century, when in 1893 an English company, Crompton and Co., began displaying them in their catalogue. These first prototypes were inefficient as the heating element could not be submersed and so they didn't take off. A Birmingham engineer called Leslie Large finally cracked it in 1922 when he designed an element that could be submersed, thus making the electric kettle more efficient than a stove top one.
The final big advance was made by the well known company Russell Hobbs. Bill Russell and Peter Hobbs joined forces in 1952, and along with a number of other electrical appliances, invented the K1, the world's first automatic electric kettle in 1955. The automation in the K1 worked by forcing steam through a gap at the back of the kettle which would trip the switch. As the water got to the boil and started producing steam, this would cause it to turn off and saved you the hassle of an exploding kettle!
For a nation of tea drinkers who had already been falling in love with the convenience of the tea bag, the automatic electric kettle was a godsend. Such is the widespread use of this type of kettle in Britain these days that the national grid has a dedicated team to managing a phenomenon known as the TV pickup, when we all go to get a cuppa during ad breaks!
It is perhaps this preference for tea which explains why we are such fond users of the electric kettle compared to our American colleagues, as they are on the whole dedicated coffee drinkers. There is another important factor here too though, and it comes back down to electricity. Most of the world supplies it at 200-240 volts, but a small number, including the USA, supplies between 100-127. This means that an electric kettle there will take substantially more time to come to the boil.