Design & Make

Chemex Coffeemaker

by Jessica Hundley November 18, 2009
ReadChemex Coffeemaker


Spawned from the unlikely mind of an expat German scientist — the Chemex coffeemaker is a brilliant melding of design and convenience, a thermal carafe drip-system consisting of lab grade borosilicate beaker glass and a filtration system using laboratory filter paper.

Peter J. Schlumbohm, Ph.D, moved to New York City in the mid-1930s and was desperately searching for a great cup of coffee amid the city’s stale automats and late night diners.

Kaufmann Mercantile Chemex coffeemaker

Finally — fed up — he decided to construct his own coffeemaker with the tools on hand. In his case, laboratory tools. The result, 50 years later, is still winning design awards (it’s also part of the MOMA permanent collection), and brewing an excellent cup of joe.

I have had the pleasure of owning two Chemex. My first, the classic Chemex coffee maker — with the wood holding ring and leather cord — was one of my favorite breakfast fetishes, a hippie classic and a combo of all the things I love — the clean lines of the beaker glass, the earthy wood, the worn leather cording… and the hot, delicious coffee on a foggy LA morn. 

Peter Schlumbohm with Chemex coffeemaker. (photo courtesy of The Hagley Museum and Library)

I dropped it and broke it, which is something I tend to do, so my next Chemex, although still beautiful, is of the glass handle/contemporary model, a better way to brew for a klutz like myself. Thank you Dr. Schlumbohm!

Drawings of the Chemex patent, 1947.


Article in TIME MAGAZINE from 1946, article in LIFE MAGAZINE from 1949, article in THE NEW YORKER from 1954.

The LIFE Magazine image found at Google Books.

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