Grand Union Tea Company, Brooklyn, New York

Starting out as a small business selling coffee, tea, spices, baking powder, and flavoring extracts in the 1870s, The Grand Union Tea Company grew successfully into a national brand by the mid 20th century before suffering setbacks, struggles and eventual decline.  The company helped spur the growth of the supermarket and discount stores which are so familiar to us today.

tea co

Bottle Embossed: “Grand Union Tea Company” with triangular logo

According to a detailed company history on The Grand Union Tea Company was an innovative company that thrived in the late 19th and first half of the 20th century.

“Cyrus, Frank, and Charles Jones founded what was to become Grand Union in 1872. They called the business the Jones Brothers Tea Co., starting with one store in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where the shelves were stocked with coffee, tea, spices, baking powder, and flavoring extracts. The brothers expanded the business steadily, branching out with new stores in eastern Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New York. By the time it built its headquarters and warehouse in Brooklyn, New York, the company was known as the Grand Union Tea Co.

In 1912 Grand Union was a 200-outlet chain store with operations across the country. In addition to its business establishments, the company supported a small army of 5,000 door-to-door salesmen and delivered goods in horse-drawn wagons. The brothers incorporated the Jones Brothers Tea Co. in 1916. Grand Union used its financial strength through the 1920s to acquire other food businesses, including Progressive Grocery Stores, the Union Pacific Tea Co., and Glenwood stores. After merging with the Oneida County Creameries Co. in 1928, the Jones brothers reincorporated under the Grand Union name. During the 1930s Grand Union grew to be one of the country’s most thriving food chains. In 1931 the company had 708 small stores and $35 million in sales.

The next decade saw the development of the “supermarket” concept. The idea was to house a range of groceries, including meat, dairy products, and inedible packaged goods, under one roof. When Lansing P. Shield took over as Grand Union president in the early 1940s, he embraced the supermarket format and plunged the company forward into a new era of food marketing. Grand Union was one of the first companies to utilize the format. Shield helped evolve the supermarket concept by demanding that the spacious supermarkets be designed carefully so as not to overwhelm customers used to smaller shops. Shield suggested breaking down the open spaces by building more walls and dispersing special product displays throughout the aisles. By the mid-1950s, Grand Union operated about half the number of stores it did in the 1930s, but the stores turned out nearly seven times the volume of sales.

When grocery stores became involved in the discounting business, Grand Union was again one of the first in the food business to welcome the idea. The first Grand Union general merchandise discount store, called Grand Way, opened in 1956 in Keansburg, New Jersey. After the Keansburg store proved a success, the company opened another in Albany, New York. By 1962 Grand Union was operating 21 discount stores. To keep the stores running smoothly, Chairman Thomas Butler hired Joseph L. Eckhouse, formerly the head of the Gimbel Bros. department store in New York, to oversee them. Eckhouse envisioned the Grand Way stores as a place to buy quality goods and fashionable clothing at lower prices than department stores. Eckhouse died, however, before his vision could be fully realized.”

Sadly, in the second half of the 20th century, notes, the company struggled and declined, losing money and twice entering into bankruptcy protection.  While it’s still around today, it no longer has the impressive coverage and diverse offerings it once boasted.

Like many turn of the century companies, Grand Union advertised its business by publishing numerous popular books, recipe booklets, calendars and trading cards.  Aside from its store locations, it also used door to door sales methods to reach its customers.


Grand Union Tea Company Horse Drawn Wagon, date unknown.


Horse drawn wagon with “Grand Union Tea Company – Wolfboro Delivery”, painted on it. Date unknown.


Grand Union Tea Company, Store Front, Salt Lake City, Utah; October 27, 1905.

dickens book

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, published by the Grand Union Tea Company (New York) in the late 1800s.


Grand Union Tea Company recipe booklet for maple flavoring, date unknown.


Grand union family dictionary. 40,000 words (1902)


1896 Grand Union Tea Company Calendar


Late 1800s Advertising for Grand Union Tea Company


Grand Union Tea Co advertising card, date unknown


1880’s Grand Union Tea Company advertising card

girl with shell

Grand Union Tea Tag, the Grand Union Tea Company of Shenandoah, New York & Scranton, date unknown.

About Jessica

I am the supervisor of the analysis of the archaeological collection recovered from the Old Main excavation.
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15 Responses to Grand Union Tea Company, Brooklyn, New York

  1. Debbie says:

    I have an old iron with a detachable handle and bought it years ago in an antique store. I just noticed the name on the side as Grand Union Tea Company so I binged the name. I was so surprised to see the info posted here! I had no idea my little iron came from such a rich background. I’ll never look at it the same again. btw, I use it as a doorstop on my front porch 🙂


  2. Ron Valentine says:

    What year is the clear bottle with the triangular logo from? I dug three of them up from my yard the other day! Nice bottle. Didn’t have the cork though.

    • Sam Eddison says:

      Hi, Ron! I (like you) just dug one of these bottles out of my backyard. I washed it off and noticed it read, “Grand Union Tea Co.” on both sides. Not sure how much it’s worth. Sorry.

      • William E. Kruse says:

        My grandfather was VP of Grand Unioin. I would much like to have one of your salvaged bottles. How much would you like for it. Thank you. Bill Kruse

    • Ryan Freeley says:

      I also dug up one of these bottles. Not sure how much they are worth though.

  3. Dianne Brown says:

    We currently have the 1896 calendar. Unfortunately, sometime over the last 122 years, it has been the bearer of a couple of dark colored stains on the first two quarters of the year. My grandmother was living in Pennsylvania and managed to procure them. More than likely, from her mother. It was amazing to see a beloved family heirloom we possess listed on the “net.” We, as a family, are totally amazed with vibrancy and condition of this antiquated item. Any further information regarding this wonderful calendar, i.e. artist, date of production, etc., would be appreciated.

  4. Rick Thompson says:

    Hi, I’m working on my family history and I found a reference to my relative who worked at your store in Howard, Pennsylvania and it also said that he worked in the main office in Williamsport, Pennsylvania do you have any records of those stores and if any photos. Also he name was LeVerne Day a sales manager in around 1942ish anything would be greatly appreciated. Rick Thompson

  5. William E. Kruse says:

    My grandfather, Gustave E. Kruse, rose from office boy at the age of 14, circa 1878, to become Vice President and member of the Board of the Grand Union Company. He was retired in 1937. He was a known as the Official United States Coffee Taster. A life long Republican he switched party allegiances when Al Smith ran for President in 1928. He supported the Democratic Party financially and became close friends with Mr. Smith and James Farley, both inveterate Tammany constituents. When Roosevelt was elected in 1931 he appointed Jim Farley, a long time maker and shaker, as Postmaster General. Someone sent a letter to Gus which had no address. Rather, it had a picture of Gus sitting at a coffee tasting table in the Grand Union principal offices located in what is now known as the Dumbo district, and the inscription: Mr. Postmaster you ought to know this man. It was delivered. My grandmother for the remainder of her life received a weekly delivery of Gus’s favorite private blend of coffee. I can remember the taste. There has bern nothing like it since. The old warehouse/office has been converted to a Condominium. The pleasant scent of roasting coffee beans long purged leaves only the tiled logo in the lobby to identify the origin of the structure. Bill Kruse

  6. After taking down a picture of a beautiful young child (girl), put into the frame with 1″ square nails, on the back, was a cardboard printed picture of the “Grand Union Tea Company” in New York. Building with wagons, horses, people, loading and leaving.. Located on Pearl, Water, Jay and Front streets. Looked it up and here it is! Very interesting.

  7. I acquired a curved frame containing the picture of a beautiful young girl. The picture had been trimmed to fit the frame. I believe it was an advertising piece for the GUT Co. because, on the back was a drawing of the headquarters at Pearl, Water, Jay and Front Streets in Brooklyn and a list of branch stores across the country.

  8. Samuel Farrier says:

    I was in an antique shop a week ago and saw a safe door with grand union tea co. on the door and it looks pretty old . so I googled it and found this . Im going to buy it and make a wall hanging out of it the patina looks amazing .

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  11. Rebecca says:

    When remodeling an old house my husband found a board with “HEADQUARTERS GRAND UNION TEA CO. BROOKLYN N.Y.” stamped on it. Just curious about how it would have made it to Little Falls MN

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