How a German Scientist Invented the Perfect Coffeemaker

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The Chemex Coffeemaker, a pour-over apparatus invented by scientist Dr. Peter Schlumbohm 70 years ago, hasn't changed a bit since it was designed. It's the very definition of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." So how did this quiet little device gain such a following?

Shlumbohm was responsible for the creation of more than 300 patented devices—20 of which have a home in MoMA's permanent collection. Collector's Weekly has the story of how one of the most iconic of this—the Chemex—came to be:

A German immigrant to the United States, Schlumbohm received his Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Berlin and moved to New York in 1936 (just as Hitler was consolidating his power). Despite his friends’ protests about the dire state of the American economy during the Great Depression, only five years later, Schlumbohm had invented his famous hourglass-shaped brewer; within a few years of securing his patent, the Chemex was available in department stores and through mail order catalogs around the world. Schlumbohm not only wanted to create a device to brew perfect coffee without a trace of bitterness, but also an elegant product that fit the streamlined aesthetic of Mid-Century Modernism.


The piece also discusses how Schlumbohm approached design in general:

Schlumbohm developed his products by stripping appliances down to their essentials and making them work better. In the vein of modern inventors like James Dyson, Schlumbohm didn’t overload his creations with a jumble of new features—he reshaped the industries he entered through the sheer force of innovative elegance. Maybe that’s why the Chemex still feels so fresh; in a world of overly complex and smirking technology, the Chemex remains a quiet anomaly.

Schlumbohm's story just goes to show that some of the best designs are the simplest. Head over to Collector's Weekly for the whole piece. [CW]