This coffee maker was devised by chemist and inventor, Dr. Peter Schlumbohm, for the Chemex® Corporation. It is made of heat-resistant non-porous borosilicate glass, and surrounded by a wood collar tied with a leather thong, that serves as an insulated handle with which to pour the hot beverage. The ingenious use of glass allows the coffee to brew without the apparatus imparting any flavors of its own. The pure, clean coffee flavor achieved during brewing is a key reason behind this appliance’s decades-long popularity. Introduced to the market in 1941 and patented in 1944, the coffee maker is still produced today. Utilizing only a specially designed paper coffee filter, thicker than other paper filters, this drip system produces well-balanced coffee every time.
The coffee maker’s simple form brings to mind laboratory glassware, and its innovative shape proclaims Dr. Schlumbohm’s familiarity with such equipment. With a view towards the American kitchen being a “Chemist’s Kitchen”, Schlumbohm designed the coffee maker and other products utilizing the lines of common flasks, tubes and funnels as inspiration. This coffee maker, for example, combines the form of the conical Erlenmeyer flask for the bottom, with a funnel shape at the top, resulting in the trademarked Chemex® hourglass form complete with its collar. Like the untainted flavor of its coffee, the design itself has the pure, unadorned lines derived from German modernism and the Bauhaus aesthetic, styles that focus on the perfection achieved through the ethos of form following function. Created during World War II, this vessel made without metal would have been seen as patriotic at a time when all available metal was needed by the military.
Few products of the twentieth century can match the rigorous blending of design and function of the Chemex® coffee maker. Its visual elegance has earned it a place in the permanent collections of museums throughout the world. The Chemex® coffeemaker was also selected by the Illinois Institute of Technology as one of the 100 best-designed products of modern times. Genius.
Susan Teichman is a design historian who specializes jewelry history and the architectural history of synagogues.