RIP, Mr. Coffee

original mr coffee c. 1972It seems like it should have been bigger news in the coffee world, but somehow it slipped past with little mention. On March 12, Samuel Glazer, one of the partners who birthed a coffee revolution, passed away.

Glazer and his high school buddy Vincent Marotta had this crazy idea that American women would like an automatic drip coffeemaker in their kitchens. The pair hired an engineer to design the machine, talked Joe DiMaggio into pitching it to the public and the rest is history.

Reading Glazer's obituaries this morning, I was struck yet again by the way that the coffee world just seems to attract genuinely good, good-hearted people. His partner speaks of him with genuine warmth and affection -- they were, apparently, not only business partners, but best friends for more than 60 years. He built his business locally, and while the partners owned Mr. Coffee, the company employeed about 1,000 local workers. In 1987, they sold the business for $82 million -- 15 years to build a business from nothing to $82 million, not too shabby.

Looking back on the sale in 2004, Glazer commented on the fact that Mr. Coffee eventually left the country, telling the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "The large companies that are doing this are self-destructing, in my view. If you take away all the jobs, where are you going to get customers? How are people going to make a living?

Kinda makes you wish guys like him had more say in how we do business, doesn't it?

The Plain Dealer's obit also notes that he loved to give Mr. Coffee machines to his friends. There's something about that simple statement that strikes me as delightful. It's like a kid who's so pleased with his new toy that he has to share it with everyone. And that delight was well-placed. Oliver Strand, who writes about coffee for the NY Times, called it a lasting innovation -- amazing for its time, then "kind of dorky".

braun kf-21 coffee maker c. 1972 And you can't help but look at that original machine and agree with the "dorky" comment. It was a perfect fit for the typical 1970s suburban kitchen, but it was far from design art. For that, you have to look at the Braun KF-21, marketed that same year in Europe.

But I have fond memories of that boxy, serviceable machine. I was old enough when it came out to remember my mother's delight at her purchase and the place of pride it was accorded on the kitchen counter. It had no fancy gadgets, no brew pause feature, no temperature control or any of the other things I look for in an ADC today. It did have a warmer plate that scorched your coffee undrinkable within 20 minutes after brewing. It made several thousand pots of coffee in my mother's kitchen before she packed it up and sent it off with me to my very first apartment, where I promptly broke the carafe and found it was cheaper to buy a new coffee maker than to replace the original carafe.

Still, the original Mr. Coffee was a part of my childhood and coming of age years. I remember it fondly, and it makes me happy to know that the men who came up with the idea thought of it as more than just another business investment. 

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