Tasteful Design: Peter Schlumbohm & the Chemex Coffeemaker

Tasteful Design: Peter Schlumbohm & the Chemex Coffeemaker

History Hangout" Conversation with Clark Barwick


Americans love coffee, but the coffee in American cups has changed a lot over the years. Three waves of coffee consumer culture washed over the twentieth-century United States: the mass commodity wave, the differentiation wave, and the aficionado’s wave. With each wave came changes to the way Americas bought, prepared, and consumed coffee. Present throughout the decades, however, has been the Chemex coffeemaker designed in the 1930s by chemist and industrial designer Peter Schlumbohm. 

Uncovering the story of the Chemex coffeemaker is Clark Barwick, cultural historian and teaching professor of business communication at Indiana University. Using the Schlumbohm collection of scrapbooks and papers held in the Hagley Library, Barwick discovered how a desire for a cleaner cup of coffee, and a knack for marketing and promotion, led Schlumbohm to create and share the Chemex with the world. More than eighty years later, the device is still a beloved standard piece of equipment among coffee lovers everywhere. 

In support of his work, Barwick received funding from the Center for the History of Business, Technology, & Society at the Hagley Museum & Library.

The audio only version of this program is available on our podcast.