HOW THE VICTORIAN OBSESSION FOR ORDER CREATED THE HUMBLE SUGAR CUBE
In 1840, sweetening your tea was a complicated affair. To the cone-shaped loaf of refined sugar you’d bought from your grocer, you’d take a sugar nipper—a pair of sharp-edged cast-iron pincers—to twist off a fist-sized chunk. If you were cooking, you’d then shave it down into powder, but for beverages, it was much easier—if not tidier—to simply dunk the chunk in your drink, let it dissolve to your taste, then fish it out and let dry for the next cup of tea.
In Moravia, then part of the Austrian empire, now the easternmost portion of the Czech Republic, Jakub Kryštof Rad’s wife wasn’t happy with the sticky status quo. After one too many nipper-related injuries, or so the story goes, she put Rad, the Swiss-born director of a beet sugar refinery in Dačice, on the case for a single-serve sugar solution. Rad’s answer, patented in 1843, was the sugar cube.
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