The Jewel Tea Company

The Jewel Tea Company had its beginning in Chicago, Illinois in 1899 with $700, one man and his horse and wagon. This man was Frank V. Skiff, son of a Newton, Iowa grocer. There were many tea companies at that time, and they all sold door-to-door, giving premium coupons with grocery purchases. When enough coupons had been saved, the customer had a choice of premium items offered.

In 1901, Frank Skiff’s brother-in-law, Frank P. Ross, bought into the business as a partner. They took turns driving the delivery wagon and soliciting new business.

One day Mr. Ross knocked on the kitchen door of a prospective customer and had hardly stated his business when she grabbed a broom. He returned later that same day and learned that the lady had saved coupons for six months buying coffee and tea from a “wagon man” and had expected to get a rug with her coupons. However, the wagon man stopped coming around. Mr. Ross quickly offered her a premium to be left with her first order, to be paid out with a later trade.

This story varies from a broom to hot water, but the fast thinking Mr. Ross with his idea of advancing the premium set the Jewel Tea Company apart from all other existing tea companies of the day.

The new company was named Jewel because anything that was considered superior was referred to as a “jewel,” whether it was a horse or a tea company.

The company was incorporated in Illinois in 1903. Early in 1904 expansion began in earnest with many new routes opened outside of the Chicago area. In 1906, The Jewel Tea Company entered the food-manufacturing field, starting with baking powder and two years later, roasting its own coffee.

In 1916, the company was incorporated under the laws of New York State, and listed on the New York Stock Exchange. By 1917 sales had reached $15 million with over 1700 routes in operation. World War I took its toll on the company, but by 1921, due to the efforts of John M. Hancock, the company was again operating in the black.

In 1930, The Jewel Tea Company moved its operations from Chicago to Barrington, Illinois. The company sold household products through salesmen traveling the country until 1981. Jewel Tea supplied housewives with everything from baking powder and other grocery items to cleaning supplies, linens, cookware and china.The Jewel Home Shopping Service was phased out of the Jewel Companies in 1981.


Gunningham, Jo. 1976, 5th Ed. The Autumn Leaf Story.