History of the Chemex Coffee Maker

Some friends recently purchased a Chemex coffee maker, prompting me to remember that it was created in the 1940s (1941 to be exact). Details from the story of the design and its designer, Dr. Peter Schlumbohm, are fascinating and include:

  • Its design was influenced by Bauhaus principles: “A table must be a table; a chair must be a chair; a bed must be a bed. … A coffee maker must make coffee.”
  • Ironically, Macy’s initially rejected it because it did not look like a coffee maker.
  • President Roosevelt played a hand in the success of the Chemex. He granted access to production materials during wartime, after being personally persuaded by a Latin pun written by Schlumbohm.

These details are not to be found on the History page of Chemex’s website. Instead, they’re found in One Hundred Great Product Designs (1970) by Jay Doblin. Doblin corresponded with Schlumbohm to get the full story. As the book is out of print, I scanned the relevant pages. View the PDF.