Edmund Abel, engineer who changed the way Americans brewed coffee, dies at 92

May 2

Edmund Abel, whose patented design for the Mr. Coffee machine changed the way millions of households brewed their morning beverage, died April 21 at his home in Rocky River, Ohio. He was 92.

His niece, Holly Bundy, confirmed the death but did not provide a specific cause.

Introduced in 1972, Mr. Coffee soon dominated the U.S. home-brew coffee market, as the trim glass decanter and drip brewing unit replaced percolators in kitchens nationwide. Former Major League Baseball star Joe DiMaggio pitched the product in advertising for more than 15 years almost from the start.

Mr. Abel, a largely self-trained engineer who held patents in film developing and aviation, was hired by the owners of Cleveland-based North American Systems to develop an automatic drip coffee appliance. At the time, most drinkers used percolators, which had a reputation for making bitter coffee.

The process Mr. Abel developed, demonstrated at the National Housewares Show in Chicago in 1971, produced a mellower brew by using water at a lower temperature than percolators.

The final product worked more than twice as fast as its nearest competitors, making a cup in 30 seconds or 10 cups in five minutes, according to ads. Mr. Coffee also was twice as expensive as a typical percolator, selling for $39.99 each when it was introduced.

By the late 1970s, the automatic drip machine drove North American Systems annual sales to $150 million as the company captured more than half the U.S. coffeemaker market, according to a 1979 Forbes magazine article. Imitators also began arriving in stores. Today, Mr. Coffee is manufactured by Boca Raton, Fla.-based Jarden Corp.

Edmund Angel Abel Jr. was born May 12, 1921, in Cleveland. In high school, he became a radio hobbyist and student pilot, and got mechanical and electrical experience working for an uncle, a home builder, he said in a 2011 interview posted on the Web site of the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging.

During Army service in World War II, he built remote-controlled flying drones used for target practice. Later, he studied aeronautical engineering on the G.I. Bill and worked for companies in the Cleveland area.

Although Vincent Marotta, co-owner of North American Systems, often portrayed Mr. Coffee as his brainchild in interviews, it was Mr. Abel who patented the machine. He assigned the patent to North American Systems and saw little of the revenue from the product.

Mr. Abel attributed his long life to a natural diet bolstered by grapefruit seed extract, and never drank coffee, Bundy, his niece, said. “He was proud, but Uncle Ed was a little bitter over the fact that he was never really given a lot of credit” for Mr. Coffee, she said. “I always called it his bitter grounds.”

— Bloomberg News

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