Photo of the Day

photos and stories from the Powerhouse Museum

Tea-timer, 1927

January 3rd, 2014 by

alarm clock

Award-winning author and illustrator Shaun Tan explores this forgotten world in The Oopsatoreum, a fictional tale of a strikingly original but spectacularly unsuccessful inventor called Henry Archibald Mintox.

‘an alarm clock to produce tea at precise intervals’

One of Mintox’s earliest efforts was the automatic teapot, essentially an augmented alarm clock designed to produce tea at precise intervals throughout the day. At the stroke of a preset timer, a match lit a small oil burner, heating water in a kettle. This would pour into a cup at boiling temperature upon completion of its cycle, signalled by a small bell, some two hours later. Resetting the machine took another hour, which generally discouraged investors. A steam explosion during a public demonstration did little to sell the concept.
Another device based on the alarm clock did not fare any better. The ‘dog walker’ let out a kilometre of cord tied to a dog’s collar, allowing the animal to roam freely before winching it back thirty minutes later. Why Mintox chose to invest so much time and money in these two projects — while discarding plans for other mechanically timed devices such as a ‘dish-cleansing machine’, a ‘rotating clothes drying chamber’ and a ‘reticulated lawn hydration system’ — remains a mystery.

Shaun Tan

Automatic tea-making alarm clock, invented in 1902 by the Tea Maker Water Boiler Co, Birmingham, England. Tea-making begins when the preset alarm bell moves a spring
that strikes a match. The match heats a spirit burner, which heats the teapot. The teapot tilts automatically when the water boils.

Gift of E Hanser, 1958. H5804

Photography by Marinco Kojdanovski
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