Vincent Marotta Sr., whose role in the creation and marketing of the Mr. Coffee drip coffeemaker made him one of the fathers of modern American caffeination, passed away this weekend in his home in Ohio, the New York Times reports. He was 91.
Marotta and his real estate partner Samuel Glazer got into the kitchen appliance game during a downturn in their business in the late 1960s, and in the process they helped save coffee lovers from the bitter, percolator-brewed joe that was then the norm in American kitchens. They hired engineers to adapt the drip brewers from restaurants for home use, and what resulted—a countertop device that heated water to the optimal temperature, then harnessed the power of gravity to send it through a basket of grounds and into a carafe—was nothing short of a revolution for the coffee-loving public.
It was not only Marotta's technical innovation but his gift for promotion and showmanship that established Mr. Coffee as the name in home coffee brewing. After his presentation at the 1971 Chicago Housewares Show received an enthusiastic consumer response, Marotta, a former athlete who was once signed by the St. Louis Cardinals, sought out the services of retired baseball legend Joe DiMaggio to act as the face of Mr. Coffee. DiMaggio rarely drank coffee to avoid aggravating his ulcer and took some convincing, but he would go on to star in a series of commercials over more than a decade that helped make Mr. Coffee synonymous with home brewing.
The company that manufactured Mr. Coffee was eventually sold to a larger electronics firm, but Marotta's contribution to caffeine culture did not escape media attention. From the Washington Post:
A New York Times article from 1973 that headlined "Coffee—After long years of decline, some hopeful signs" listed Marotta’s machine as one of those signs. "The electric drip pot is beginning to put a decent tasting brew in the American cup," read an enthusiastic Washington Post story three years later.
By 1991, a Consumer Reports survey found that 90 percent of coffee-drinkers used a drip-style maker.
Marotta held a modest view of the role his creation had played for new generations of caffeine enthusiasts.
"You know, I gotta tell you from the bottom of my heart, no bull crap at all, when I was developing Mr. Coffee, I never thought that this coffeemaker would be the greatest success in the appliance industry in this century!" he told Forbes in 1979, at which point he was cranking out 40,000 coffee makers a day and dominating half the U.S. coffeemaker market.
"I … was so involved with the thing itself," he continued, speaking with a salesman’s flair for theatrics. “Like Michelangelo, when he was making his Moses."
Marotta is survived by his wife, Ann, to whom he was married for more than 60 years, along with six children and 11 grandchildren.