His coffee machine killed off the percolator
Thanks to Vincent Marotta, millions of American kids grew up thinking Joe DiMaggio was an appliance salesman. It was Marotta, a former pro football player, who signed up DiMaggio as a celebrity face for the ads promoting his Mr Coffee machine. Marotta, who has died at his home in Ohio aged 91, helped send the percolator the way of the dodo.
One of the first automatic drip coffee makers designed for home use, Mr Coffee was first marketed in 1972. The brainchild of Marotta, then a real estate developer, and his partner, Samuel Glazer, it was intended to replace the prevalent, problematic household percolator. Mr Coffee became a market leader almost immediately. By 1979, Forbes reported, the company was generating $150 million in annual sales and held a market share of at least 50 per cent versus rivals like Norelco, General Electric and Proctor-Silex.
Much of the brand’s success owed to its ubiquitous television ads featuring Joe DiMaggio. Marotta, a former pro football player who had also signed with Major League Baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals, personally recruited DiMaggio. Tacit credit also goes to Marotta’s wife, Ann. For had Marotta preferred her coffee, said his daughter, Mr Coffee very likely would not have come to be.
The son of Calogero Marotta and the former Josephine Mirabella, migrants from Italy, Vincent George Marotta was born on George Washington’s birthday, hence his middle name. His father, known in the US as Charles, was a coal dealer.
Vincent Marotta, a star athlete, was signed as a centre fielder by the Cardinals soon after he graduated from high school. But World War II intervened, and after Army service stateside, he earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio.
In 1948, Marotta was drafted by both the New York Giants of the National Football League and the Cleveland Browns, then in the All-America Football Conference. He played briefly with the Browns before going into business with Glazer, a friend since high school, as a developer of homes and shopping malls.
In 1968, after a credit squeeze made real estate financing difficult to obtain, Marotta found himself wondering what else he might do. His thoughts turned to coffee, and in particular to the pernicious percolator.
A mainstay of American material culture for generations, the percolator had changed little since its advent in the 19th century. It operated by repeatedly forcing boiling or near-boiling water through a perforated metal basket of grounds. Through a crystal knob in the lid, users could peer into the pot’s dark heart, watching the coffee grow blacker and blacker.
But that small voyeuristic thrill was, in the opinion of many coffee lovers, the only positive aspect of the experience. Because the percolator circulated the same water through the same grounds again and again, what emerged could be a bitter third- or fourth-generation brew.
At the time, the only commonly available alternative was instant coffee. But that preparation, many consumers maintained, made perked coffee taste delicious by comparison. Marotta and Glazer engaged two former Westinghouse engineers, who designed a machine that worked by heating water to only 200 degrees Fahrenheit and sending it downward through a paper-lined filter basket filled with grounds and into a heated glass carafe.
However, for all his missionary zeal, there was one convert Marotta could never make. DiMaggio, the face of Mr Coffee for more than a decade, had ulcers and rarely drank coffee himself.
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