header home
rss rss
itunes itunes
youtube Youtube
facebook facebook
twitter twitter

Coffee makers (Public Radio Commentary)

Listen now

| More

(For radio stations: Bill's public radio work can be licensed via PRX).

I tend to raise early, yet am not really a morning person. My first act is to brew a pot of coffee. As it brews I use the time to contemplate. For years now, every morning, starring at my coffee pot I've contemplated one thing: Why do I have a drip coffee maker, when my parents had only a percolator - a vastly inferior way to make coffee. This started me on a quest for an answer.

After much work I now have the answer ... baseball. I will explain, but first a bit of history about coffee making. Today's machines are automatic drip coffee makers. This is the best way to make coffee, but until now has been too demanding to do well. You start with water that is exactly twelve degrees below boiling, then pour it slowly over ground coffee beans encased in a filter. Usually the filter was cloth, which contaminated the coffee unless cleaned everyday. This was too much for most people, so home coffee making was dominated by the percolator.

The percolator had the virtue of being automatic, but the negative is terrible coffee, often described by coffee lovers as sludge. We all love hearing the perc of a percolator, but its actually a bad thing. The perc comes from the boiling water, which is too hot for making good coffee. Each time the water percs through the grounds the coffee becomes more bitter. A taste so bitter that the percolator drove coffee sales to an all-time low by the mid nineteen sixties.

In this decade the Bunn Company of Springfield Illinois perfected an automatic drip coffee maker for restaurants. They replaced the cloth filter with a disposable paper one, and they perfected a way to boil the water and cool it slightly before dripping it slowly through the ground beans. This restaurant model made five pots at once, but it opened the door to making a home version.

In 1972 Vincent Marotta of Cleveland Ohio designed the Mr. Coffee machine - the first home drip coffee maker. The key to its success was baseball. Marotta felt he needed a big-name to change generations of percolator users into drip coffee maker users. Marotta who'd played with the St. Louis Cardinals turned to his hero: Joe DiMaggio, the pride of the Yankees.

Now at the time DiMaggio wasn't just an ordinary sports figure - he was a legend with a bit of mystery due to his brief marriage with Marilyn Monroe. Marotta somehow got DiMaggio's unlisted phone number in San Francisco and called one Saturday morning. DiMaggio answered. After Marotta pitched his ad campaign DiMaggio told him he'd just won a Mr. Coffee machine in a golf tournament and said his sister ``is making coffee with it right now.'' Yet the ex-baseball star wasn't interested in being in a commercial, saying ``I don't do that kind of work.''

The next day, Marotta and his wife flew to San Francisco, where Marotta called DiMaggio again and invited him to lunch. DiMaggio agreed. During lunch DiMaggio's expression barely changed when they shook hands after the meal, he agreed to make the commercials. And those commercials, with the integrity of Joe DiMaggio behind them, put Mr. Coffee on the map - and coffee makers into nearly every American home.

Copyright 2000 William S. Hammack Enterprises