Today, I'd like to pay tribute to an amazing woman, gone for decades now, who made this world a considerably happier place for many of us tea lovers, Ruth C. Bigelow. I just got through reading her son David's 2008 book, "My Mother Loved Tea," and I was so surprised and inspired by what I found inside!
The R.C. Bigelow Company got its start, David says, when his mother, Ruth Campbell Bigelow, created the famous Constant Comment blend of tea. In 1945 only black tea was available in most grocery stores, so that was the only choice that existed. "Believe it or not," says David, "there was no such thing as a specialty tea to be found and in Ruth Bigelow's mind, this was wrong." Ruth was originally an interior designer and her husband, David Sr., worked in the publishing industry, but during the Depression both their careers took a hit and they needed another livelihood. Ruth's idea was to come up with a successful food product for them to sell, and at first that product was a Chinese seasoning they sold to restaurants.
Eventually, her thoughts turned to her first love, tea. David says that his mother learned from a friend about a tea that had been popular in the South (!) during Colonial times, a blend containing orange peel and sweet spice. The story goes that after experimenting in her kitchen for weeks, she shared this new blend with a friend who served it at "a social occasion" and reported back, "Ruth, your tea caused nothing but constant comments." Ruth latched onto the name, and a tea star was born! The story of Constant Comment's rise to fame is a fascinating one. For one thing, even Ruth's husband found it hard to believe the tea would be successful, and grocers were reluctant to take on an unknown product. Through sheer persistence and belief in her tea, Ruth got her Constant Comment in grocery stores, department stores and gift shops, bringing to mind that classic old saying about how "the one who says it can't be done should never interrupt the one who is doing it!" The business eventually grew to include Ruth's son David and his wife Eunice, and in later years, their daughters Cindi and Lori. It's really incredible to imagine what might have happened if Ruth Bigelow had not had such a passion for tea. Would specialty tea ever have made its way into mainstream American culture, and if so, how long would it have taken? Thanks to her, we don't have to worry about that, so today I lift a teacup full of gratitude to Ruth C. Bigelow!