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The Flat Cap on ... Hot Water Bottles

The Flat Cap was feeling a little chilly when he went to bed yesterday evening. And then he remembered that he possessed an old hot water bottle. After a bit of a search he finally managed to locate it in the cupboard where he stores his bath towels. It was actually wedged behind a large red and yellow beach towel that hadn't been used since last summer; when he had visited Southport. Southport can be a nice day out but you really need it to be dry and sunny to make the most of its attractions. Having found the hot water bottle The Flat Cap began wondering who had thought up the idea of warming up the bed in such a way. He resolved to find out more about this tremendously simple invention.

The first thing The Flat Cap learned was that the idea of warming up the bed with something wasn't a new one. As far back as the sixteenth century people had taken to warming their beds with various containers. First the containers were filled with hot coals but after a number of accidents and burning holes in the bed sheets some clever chap came up with the idea of filling them with hot water. This meant that any accidents only led to a wet bed, and as it is quicker to dry your bed linen than sew patches over holes water soon became the filling to use.

Early bottles were made from metals such as copper, zinc or brass. There were even earthenware bottles as well as some made from glass and wood. A badly manufactured wooden one would have probably given you splinters and glass ones could easily break and cause injury if you rolled over onto them in the night. Despite wrapping these early articles in cloth sleepers, and restless sleepers in particular, needed something safer.

Fast forward to the late nineteenth century and there is reference in the British Medical Journal of 1875 to the use of India rubber hot water bottles. India rubber is just another name for natural rubber and it doesn't mean that the rubber necessarily comes from India, although it could do because India has plenty of rubber plantations. India has lots of interesting stuff besides rubber; such as elephants, a vast railway network, spectacular scenery and some really ornate temples. The Flat Cap thinks India would be a great country to visit but it would take ages to see everything; even if he did travel around on lots of trains.

The hot water bottle, as we know it today, was patented by a Croatian inventor called Eduard Penkala. When he wasn't patenting hot water bottle designs he was building Croatia's first biplane, developing and manufacturing mechanical pencils and inventing the world's first solid-ink fountain pen. A prolific inventor Penkala held eighty patents for various things; but the first, and arguably most important, was the hot water bottle. Unless of course you count in stuff like detergents, a battery, a type of brake, sealing wax and medicines. Unfortunately Penkala didn't fare that well on the medical front and died of pneumonia at the age of fifty.

With the advent of central heating, electric blankets and big duvets hot water bottle usage began to decline towards the end of the twentieth century. The Flat Cap thinks this is a shame as hot water bottles are really stylish and can be used to entertain large crowds. The art of hot water bottle blowing is the best example. Requiring great abdominal strength and impressive lung capacity the blower inflates the hot water bottle with his mouth, or even nose, until it eventually explodes. It's also quite dangerous and you could hurt yourself. There are a number of recognised Guinness World records for inflating a hot water bottle until it bursts.

The Flat Cap bought his most recent hot water bottle from his local branch of B&M Bargains and it was whilst he was in the bathroom furniture aisle that he met fellow shopper and self confessed rubber lover Neville, who shared the following hot water bottle / rubber related facts:

  • The largest rubber producing state in India is Kerala

  • Worldwide there are more than 2.7 billion hot water bottles, with as many as 10% being in use at any one time

  • Eduard Palenka called his patented hot water bottle the "Termofor"

  • On 9th March 1963 the character Walter Hottle Bottle first appeared in the U.K. children's comic Jack and Jill. Walter belonged to a young boy called Charles and he would take him on lots of adventures. Other literary hot water bottles were Alfred, a green hot water bottle and his friends Alphonse and Albert. All three appeared in the 1990s Australian television series Johnson & Friends

  • The British Standards for regulating the manufacture and sale of U.K. hot water bottles are BS1970 and BS1970:2012

  • Hot water bottle stopper sizes have largely been standardised but newer bottle designs have wider necks to make them easier to fill. These hot water bottles consequently have larger stoppers

  • U.K. strongman Shaun Jones holds the record for the quickest time to burst a hot water bottle by blowing into it (6.52 seconds). The record was set in 2011. Later in the same year Jones recorded the fastest time to burst three hot water bottles (28.82 seconds). However when it comes to bursting three hot water bottles using your nose the record belongs to Jemal Tkeshelashvili from the Republic of Georgia

  • Boiling water is not recommended for hot water bottles as it can degrade the rubber. Hot water bottles are thus no good for brewing or transporting tea in. They also give the tea a peculiar taste

  • On average a U.K. adult will go through 31 hot water bottles in his or her lifetime, but the figure rises to 33 for residents of Scotland where the weather is noticeably colder

  • In 2011 a guy called Richard Yu designed the "YuYu" hot water bottle. It is long rather than square. Its big advantage is that it can be strapped on the body to provide pain relief

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