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Glass and Pyrex Coffeemakers

Bodum-Santos Vacuum Coffeemaker

Historical Design Considerations: 
Early 20th Century

While coffee percolators in particular were seemingly locked into an extremely traditional design vocabulary, vacuum coffee makers had a more diverse expression. 

The colonial coffee pot was not a practical form of the vacuum coffee-maker, because it required two fully separate chambers joined in an hourglass configuration. Interest in this method revived around 1914-1916 with the increasing popularity of the Silex brand, based on models developed by Massachusetts housewives Ann Bridges and Mrs. Sutton. Their use of Pyrex solved the problem of fragility and breakability that had made this type of machine commercially unattractive.

The popularity of glass and Pyrex globes was reinforced during World War II, since aluminum, chrome, and other metals used in traditional percolators became restricted in availability. The sleek and simple forms attracted positive attention from design critics influenced by functionalism of the Bauhaus and the exigencies of wartime design. Science’s influence as a motif in post-war design was felt in the manufacture and marketing of coffee and coffee-makers. Consumer guides emphasized the ability of the device to meet standards of temperature and brewing time, and the ratio of soluble elements between brew and grounds.

The industrial chemist Peter Schlumbohm expressed the scientific motif most purely in his Chemex coffeemaker, which from its initial marketing in the early 1940s used the authority of science as a sales tool, by describing the product as "the Chemist’s way of making coffee". They discussed in-depth the quality of its product in the language of the laboratory: "the funnel of the CHEMEX creates ideal hydrostatic conditions for the unique Chemex extraction.” 

Schlumbohm’s unique brewer, a single Perspex vessel shaped to hold a proprietary filter cone, resembled nothing more than a piece of laboratory equipment and became wildly popular in the technology-obsessed, 1950’s household.