The Most Famous Teapot in Computing History

Marshall Astor // CC BY-SA 2.0
Marshall Astor // CC BY-SA 2.0 / Marshall Astor // CC BY-SA 2.0

In computer animation circles, the Utah teapot is legend. When I first installed a 3D rendering app in the dark ages of computing, this teapot was one of the models included with the software, and I rendered the heck out of it. But what's so special about this teapot? And why is it on display at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California?

The Utah teapot was "digitized" by Martin Newell in 1975, using a piece of graph paper and a series of measurements. Newell was a mathematician working at the University of Utah, and he bought the teapot at a department store in Salt Lake City. By precisely defining the curves of its surface, Newell created a dataset that other 3D computing pioneers could use to render virtual versions of the teapot. It became ubiquitous in 3D computing, at least in part because there simply weren't very many models like this in the early days—we didn't have giant libraries of ordinary objects represented in 3D, so this teapot was a convenient starting point.

In the video below, join Tim Scott at the Computer History Museum explaining the history and significance of the teapot, as he stands with Newell's original 41-year-old teapot.

For more on the teapot, check out this detailed post, which includes the original data set.

(Teapot photo by Marshall Astor ( - (, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link.)