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BellaOnline's German Culture Editor


German Inventions in Everyday Use

There are many German inventors and scientists who have helped to build the country's reputation as a source of invention and technology. Not all German inventions were patented so further developed elsewhere, and they are not only luxury cars or chic kitchen appliances but everyday objects now found in homes worldwide. Their origins an "idea" in a German kitchen, "home" laboratory or living room.


Melitta Bentz was a Dresden housewife who loved her coffee but wanted to enjoy a cup without having to drink it complete with floating coffee grounds. At least while entertaining her friends to afternoon "coffee and cakes".

She had an idea but not the "How To", so set about trying to solve the problem.

School children used pen and ink in 1908 and she began to experiment with blotting paper taken from her son Willy's workbooks, using pieces as an inlay in an empty tin can with holes at the bottom.

Hot water was added to coffee grounds lying on the paper and a pure coffee liquid dripped into a jug leaving the coffee dregs behind, and that was the beginning of the first Coffee Filter.

It took a little more development but on June 20, 1908 Melitta Bentz received patent no. 347895 for her invention. A 13 centimeter, (five inch), high brass pot to hold "filtration paper", and in December that year her family business "M. Bentz" was formed, with the five members of the family producing filters in one small room of their Dresden apartment, and then delivering them around the city with a hand cart.

Originally the paper used came from a supplier, but a filter paper was developed and produced to their own specifications in 1912 and by 1929 the business, now Bentz & Sohn, had expanded but with no facilities available in Dresden moved to an old chocolate factory in Minden, North Rhine Westphalia. There it remains to this day.

The headquarters of a global family concern, its beginnings in a kitchen with Melitta Bentz, a mother, wife and German inventor, who revolutionized the preparation of coffee and made drinking it an even better experience for all of us.


Ottmar Heinsius von Mayenburg developed toothpaste as we know it today in a small laboratory, in the attic above his Dresden pharmacy.

Although it wasn't an original thought, as the ancient Egyptians had used a mixture of pumice and vinegar to clean their teeth and the Chinese had invented a toothbrush in 1498, the initiative to try and produce a "Zahncreme" that would not only clean and protect teeth but also have a pleasant taste was Ottomar von Mayenburg's, and he used ingredients from his Loewen-Apotheke pharmacy.

After many experiments with combinations of tooth powders, essential oils and mouth washes, in 1907 he created "Chlorodent", a peppermint flavored paste made from a mixture of pumice powder, soap, calcium carbonate, glycerin and potassium chlorate.

He filled flexible metal tubes with the mixture and invented "Zahnpasta", toothpaste, which quickly became popular around the world and gave dental hygiene a place in our daily lives.


Was the first effective pain medication to have few side effects, and developed in August 1897 by scientists working for Bayer, a German pharmaceutical company based in North Rhine Westphalia. It is still one of the most common drugs in use worldwide for treating mild to moderate pain, reducing fever or inflammation, as well as a preventative against angina, strokes and heart attacks.

The name "Aspirin", which was registered in 1899, is composed from "A" for "acetyl" and "spirin", named after a plant called "Meadowsweet" that in common with the bark and leaves of willow trees contains "salicin". Something that has been used in folk medicine for pain relief from the days of Hippocrates, if not before.

Known as "The White Wonder" Aspirin was developed by a young chemist Felix Hoffmann working with Arthur Eichengruen, a specialist in synthesizing chemical compounds. They created a acetylsalicylic acid that stilled pain but had minimal side effects. Unlike a form of the compound originally been produced in 1853 by Charles Gerhardt, a French chemist, but had proved to be unusable for medical purposes.

No longer produced only by Bayer, and despite all the alternative drugs now on the market, 50,000 tons of "acetylsalicyclic" acid, Aspirin, continue to be produced annually.


"Das Pferd frisst keinen Gurkensalat", The Horse Does Not Eat Cucumber Salad, were the first words spoken on 26th October 1861 through "das Telephon", the name given the device by its inventor a 27-year-old science teacher from Hesse in Germany Johann Philipp Reis. And they were just barely understood at the receiving end.

Reis was years ahead of his time and the "Telephon" he invented in a small workshop behind his home, and constructed with everything from sausage casing and platinum to sealing wax, was not wanted at the time, but he had faith in his invention and had he had some support could have perfected it.

It was very different 15 years later for Scottish born Alexander Graham Bell, who when visiting his father in Scotland saw one of the Reis telephones being demonstrated. Bell already knew of Reis' work, as the "Telephon" had been shown and publicized all over Europe.

Philipp Reis never applied for a patent, and gave all the details for the construction and operation of his invention to anyone who asked for them, giving his invention to the world before dying aged only 40 in 1874.

Bell used techniques close to Reis's electromagnet system as well as ideas from an immigrant to the USA from Tuscany, Antonio Meucci whose laboratory he shared, to create his own telephone in 1876 and changed the ways of communication forever.

These are just four of the widely used discoveries and inventions of the last two centuries, but proof that not all were made by German scientists in "state of the art" laboratories. Germany's kitchens, attics and workshops also played their part.

Illustrations: Melitta photo courtesy Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales - In die Zukunft Gedacht. Advertisement for the main supplier of Ottmar Heinsius von Mayenburg's Zahncreme, in Austria's Illustrierte Zeitung, December 2nd, 1908 and Johann Philip Reis Telephone DDR Postage Stamp, both courtesy de.Wikipedia
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Content copyright © 2015 by Francine McKenna-Klein. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Francine McKenna-Klein. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Francine McKenna-Klein for details.


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