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Coffeemaker History

Updated on November 7, 2012

There are hundreds of drip coffee makers for home use on the market today, most spinoffs of the original Mr. Coffee machine that made its debut in 1972. The first commercial use drip coffee maker was made by the Bunn Company in 1963. But, what did people do before these marvelous contraptions?

Some say the act of brewing coffee began around 575 A.D. with the Turks so one could say the history of the coffee maker began then. But, then again, others claim it dates back to the 12th century. As legend has it a shepherd in Ethiopia noticed his goats became invigorated after they ate a reddish bean. It wasn’t long before they discovered it also made a great brew that gave them the same energy.

People tried many different types of coffee makers since then. There have been percolators, vacuum coffee makers, and drip coffee makers. Percolators use a pot over a heat source that forces the water into an upper chamber where the coffee grounds are. The water drips through the coffee and back into the lower pot. Vacuum coffee makers use two pots, one that looks upside down on the other. As it’s heated, hot water is forced up into the top chamber where it steeps the ground coffee. When the heat is removed the coffee goes back to the lower pot ready to drink.

Not much is known about coffee makers until the early 1800s when the first coffee percolator was created. But, ever since then there’s been no shortage of ideas and innovations shooting for the perfect machine and cup of coffee. The first electric percolators were introduced in the mid 1800s and were a big hit with consumers, as it made it easy to make coffee without fussing with the stove. Although old timey percolator coffee pots remain forever enshrined in coffee maker history, along with their electric counterpart, today they have largely been replaced by automatic drip coffee makers. But whether automatic or manual they all work by pouring hot water over coffee grounds that filters down into a pot ready to drink.

In the early 1900s and the advent of electricity, coffee makers became more popular and less expensive. By the 1970s almost everyone had one. These were usually automatic drip as they were the easiest to use. Today coffee makers come with many features. They have timers, built in grinders, storage compartments and much more. They range from the single cup variety to commercial units making gallons at a time. There are even home espresso and cappuccino machines.

Vacuum Machine
Vacuum Machine

The history of the modern drip coffee maker began in France, with a device called a “Biggin.” About the same time another Frenchman invented the pumping percolator, which became popular with cowboys, and mid 20th century housewives.

Designs have changed over the years, but the technology of coffee brewing remains basically the same. The Biggin consisted of a pot sitting underneath an upper level containing the beans or grounds. Hot water was poured over them and coffee would filter down into the pot.

But there were other innovations. 1840, the Napier Vacuum Machine came along. At the time, most users found it complicated, but it made a crystal clear pot of coffee that coffee drinkers loved. They are rarely seen in kitchens today, but still have a loyal following.

A vacuum coffee maker operates as a siphon using the principles of gravity and steam. Heat turns water in a lower chamber to steam that rises into an upper chamber. When heat is removed the vapor condenses back to water and atmospheric pressure pushes it back down over the grounds and into the lower chamber. The only inconvenience being the two chambers must be separated to pour the coffee.

Another invention in the early 1800s was the coffee maker balance siphon. The Balancing Siphon Coffee Maker, also known as the Royal Belgium Coffee Maker is probably the earliest automatic coffee maker produced and was an elaborate device for making coffee. Many liked it because it put on quite a show. It consisted of two canisters, one usually metal for heating water using an alcohol burner and the other glass for brewing. The two canisters were joined by a slim pipe.

The glass jar held the grounds. Boiling water flowed upwards through the pipe into the jar with the coffee grounds. Eventually, the water chamber is empty, and a balanced lever tips the canister extinguishing the burner. When the metal canister cools, a vacuum is created, and coffee is pulled back through the pipe from the glass jar. There are no filters to alter the flavor and water is kept at the right temperature for brewing.

Speaking of flavor there always comes as time when a coffee maker just doesn’t seem to make a cup as flavorful as it was when new. We end up blaming the coffee maker rather than failure to maintain routine maintenance.

The filter basket should be its original color. A black basket shouldn’t look brown and a white basket shouldn’t appear tan. If they do, coffee maker maintenance isn’t being done. These colors indicate leftover coffee oils and residue from brewing. Regular coffee maintenance is necessary to keep these old oils from mixing with fresh coffee and making it bitter and acidic tasting. That includes the brown ring in the pot and the water tank. Residue, minerals and stray grounds will find their way into the water tank.

With proper and regular coffee maker maintenance, your coffee maker will not only make better coffee, but will also last longer.


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    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      OR...some worked their way through med school as long-haul truckers?? There's a rumor the pot holes in truck stop parking lots are the final resting place for the dregs of those two burner, always-on coffee makers. Where else can they put it when even the most pilled-up trucker won't drink it and it can't be poured down any drain because it'll clog up most sewers? ;D

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Actually, they needed it strong enough to fill in the pot holes in the parking lot and paint the ambulance tires.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      I personally prefer the pressed coffee makers I saw in the UK. Don't have one yet, but it's on the top of my "Someday" list! Until then, I make do with a "baby" Mr. Coffee, the one that says it make 4 cups but really only fills 2 of the large mugs most people use.

      But don't poo-poo that leftover oil that makes coffee taste nasty. I once worked in an OB ward where the doctors' lounge sported a 30-cupper that was rarely turned off. The month of July was usually a slow time for the stork, so with nothing else to keep me occupied one evening, I set about cleaning the coffee maker. After it was sparkling like new again inside and out, I brewed a pot with only water, then rinsed it several times. The next day the stork resumed its deliveries, but you wouldn't believe the complaints about the coffee that no longer looked OR tasted like motor oil! Not only was a sign posted above the pot to "never, EVER clean this pot again", but a memo was sent down from on high with the same message. Go figure! ;D

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      I aim to please

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Another great piece that I learned so much from. Great job, John!


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