The History of Kettles

Updated March 23, 2017

To tea drinkers, there is nothing more cheering than the sound of a whistling tea kettle. It signals that a piping-hot cup of refreshing tea is close at hand. Of course, the same can be said of all the other kettles that have boiled water over the centuries, although not all of them could sing like the whistling models. Interestingly, the earliest kettles were not used for boiling water at all.

Mesopotamian Vessels

It is believed that a bronze, Mesopotamian vessel shaped like a kettle with a decorated spout dates back to between 3500 and 2000 B.C.E. Was it a kettle for boiling water? Apparently not, according to archaeological theories. In fact, early kettle-shaped containers may actually have been used for cooking.

Earliest Kettles

The first kettles used for boiling water were made of iron and placed directly on the flame. They were probably the descendants of the earliest cooking pots, which were eventually used to boil water too. By the 19th century, copper kettles were in use, but they had to be cleaned frequently because they would become tarnished after every use.


In 1891, the Carpenter Electric Company of Chicago manufactured the first electric kettle, which boiled water in 12 minutes. The Carpenter kettle had a heating element in a separate compartment that was not immersed in the water. In 1922, the Swan Company produced the first electric kettle with an immersed heating element.


Metal was in short supply during World War II. As a result, ceramic kettles replaced their metal counterparts of the 1930s. Perhaps the most important development of all was just ahead: the arrival of the first automatic kettle. In 1955, the Russell Hobbs automatic kettle took pride of place in the kettle line-up.


Plastic kettles are among the most recent models on the market, as are cordless kettles. However, the whistling kettle continues to hold its own in popularity. Modern whistling kettles are light and have heat-resistant handles. They are designed to look sleek and shiny, in brushed stainless steel and platinum, or copper, and they even come in borosilicate glass, which is both durable and easy to clean. Whistling electric kettles are also available now.

Red Kettle

No kettle history would be complete without mention of the origin of the Salvation Army's Red Kettle. Apparently this tradition was founded in 1891 when Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee was inspired by the large iron kettle called "Simpson's Pot," which had been placed at Stage Landing in England to collect money for the poor. Captain McFee placed a similar pot at the Oakland Ferry Landing in California to collect coins to fund Christmas dinner for 1,000 of San Francisco's poorest residents. Today, the Salvation Army Red Kettle is prominent in the United States and many other countries at Christmastime.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Based in Northern California, Maureen Katemopoulos has been a freelance writer for more than 25 years. Her articles on travel, the arts, cuisine and history have appeared in publications such as "Stanislaus Magazine," "Orientations," "The Asia Magazine" and "The Peninsula Group Magazine." She holds a Baccalaureate degree in journalism from Stanford University.