As a vintage collector, especially one that likes to collect vintage kitchen items, I run across lots of vintage thermoses. The one below was one I picked up a month or so back. I like the orangey-ness of it.
I also have this one that I pour any left over coffee in the morning into and drag to work with me. I add my cream so I don’t need to find a refrigerator at work and it keeps my coffee HOT all day. I always find it amazing that if I open it the next day, the coffee will still be, if not hot, at least warm. How cool is that?!
The Thermos started with the vacuum flask invented by James Dewar in 1892. According to the BBC, Dewar was interested in cryogenics. He was the first person to make liquid nitrogen. He needed a way to keep very cold liquids cold. He experimented with a number of designs before developing his double-wall glass flask. He removed the air from between the two walls creating a vacuum. The liquids stay cold because there are no molecules through which heat can transfer. Adding a silver lining to stop heat from being directly transmitted was an innovation in the final design. Amazingly enough, he did not patent the vacuum flask.
Burger and Aschenbrenner out of Germany were the first to adapt Dewar’s invention into a commercial venture. They formed Thermos GmBH in 1904. Funding Universe says that the name Thermos came about as the result of a contest. Looking for a name of their bottle that could keep items hot or cold, they ran a contest. A resident of Munich, Germany sent in the name “Thermos” which was derived from the Greek word “therme” meaning heat.
The name was trademarked in 1907 in England by A.E. Gutman. Gutman got distribution all through the United Kingdom and other countries. At the same time, William Walker was founding the American Thermos Bottle Company (Funding Universe). Walker set out to make the name “Thermos” a household name.
It didn’t take long! By 1910 a thermos signified a bottle that could keep liquids hot or cold for extended periods of time. Thermos products went all over the world. Peary even carried one with him to the North Pole and one was in the Wright brothers’ packs during their aviation experiments.
Unfortunately, being a household name has its challenges. Other companies began to call their products “Thermoses.” Just like “Kleenex” and “Aspirin” had started as brand names, Thermos became known as any bottle that had a vacuum flask for keeping items hot or cold. It even showed up in some dictionaries (Funding Universe).
They did start producing other products such as lunch boxes with popular stars like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and tents, bottle openers, lanterns and more. In 1962 it was declared by a judge that “thermos” was a generic word that could be used by other companies as long as it wasn’t capitalized. So the actual Thermos brand name is capitalized. Aladdin was another company that used the thermos name in all small letters.
If you want more information about how the company restructured some more through the 1980s you can check out Funding Universe. So that was the story of how an incidental invention became a household word!
I hope you enjoyed this look at the history of thermoses. I will be partying at the links to the right all week. Please join me. And, as always, have a great week!