Who Invented Coffee Filters?

Regardless of whether you're a self-proclaimed coffee snob or you gravitate toward the instant stuff, everyone can agree that coffee grounds have no place in a morning cup of Joe. Thanks to coffee filters — invented by a woman named Melitta Bentz — coffee you basically have to chew on is a thing of the past.

German entrepreneur Melitta Bentz was recently featured in The New York Times' "Overlooked No More" series, a section of the paper dedicated to "adding the stories of remarkable people whose deaths went unreported in The Times." The piece paints Bentz as a creative problem solver whose invention would go on to employ more than 4,000 people across the globe, drawing in approximately $1.8 billion dollars annually.

Bentz, whose full name is Amalie Auguste Melitta Liebscher, was born on January 31, 1873 in Dresden, Germany. She eventually married a man named Hugo Bentz and went on to have three children — two boys and a girl. In fact, it was thanks to her children that Bentz got the idea for her life-changing invention.

A housewife becomes an inventor

In the early 1900s, Melitta Bentz was a housewife with a problem: her morning coffee often ended in gritty frustration. Like many Germans, Melitta Bentz could not start her day without a coffee. However, there were many parts of the experience that dampened the peaceful beauty of a morning cup of joe.

For one, getting the copper pot clean from the sticky, elusive grounds was a pain, but mainly, Bentz couldn't stand the bitter, textured sips of coffee that were filled with grounds. Like any good entrepreneur, Bentz began experimenting with different solutions to her very common problem. According to The New York Times, Melitta Bentz failed many times before coming up with a solution: blotting papers. In a stroke of genius mixed with luck and a bit of good timing, Bentz ripped a piece of blotting paper from one of her children's school notebooks. She used a nail to add some holes in the thin sheet, put it over an empty pot of coffee, added grounds, poured hot water over the top, and thus, the coffee filter was born.

Melitta's coffee filter invention is a hit

It didn't take long for Melitta Bentz's coffee filter invention to take off. According to The New York Times, Bentz secured a patent for her invention in June 1908, which paved the way for a thriving business with her and her husband at the helm.

It was a family business right from the start, operating out of their five-room Dresden apartment, with Bentz's sons delivering the paper filters with a handcart. Hugo, Melitta's husband, had previous experience as a department store manager and was able to utilize sales tactics he picked up to help promote his wife's invention. He hired "demonstration ladies" who helped familiarize the public with how to use the flimsy but crucial filter. Annika von Hollen, a spokesperson for the Melitta Group, explained Hugo's strategy to The New York Times: "It was a new thing, and people had to see it to be convinced of it."

A year after receiving the patent, Melitta and Hugo took the filters to the Leipzig Trade Fair, after which their company grew even bigger.

Melitta coffee is still in operation today

Although coffee filter inventor Melitta Bentz saw great success blossom from her invention, the Melitta Group was not without its hardships and controversies — especially considering the company was in operation during two world wars, the latter of which found them working under the Nazis' forced labor policy. However, Bentz's commitment to using her success to promote positive forces in the world was once again restored after the war when the company participated in a program compensating the victims of the Nazis.

According to Melitta Group spokesperson Annika von Hollen, Melitta Bentz's legacy still lives on today. "Every employee knows Melitta Bentz and her exceptional role as the mother of the corporation," she told The New York Times. Indeed, Bentz always made sure to look out for the people who worked for her and created many work-life improvements for her staff before stepping down in 1932. According to A Mighty Girl, Bentz was known to give out generous bonuses, offer extensive vacation days, and even created "Melitta Aid," a social fund for her employees that still exists today.

So next time you take a sip of grit-free coffee, make sure to tip your cap to the beloved coffee filter inventor Melitta Bentz.