Coffee lovers can thank Melitta Bentz for her contribution into transforming the staple breakfast beverage from one that was bitter and full of grinds, to a grounds-free, aromatic hot drink. Bentz did this by creating what we now commonly refer to as the coffee filter and starting a business, which has operated for more than a century, to sell these and more.
Melitta was born on January 31, 1873 in Dresden, Germany as Amalie Auguste Melitta Liebscher. Raised by a family of entrepreneurs and businessmen, Bentz grew up in an enterprising environment. Her father was a publisher and book salesman and her grandparents owned a brewery.
Melitta fell in love with and married Johannes Emil Hugo Bentz. The couple went on to have two sons, Willy and Horst, in 1899 and 1904, respectively, and one daughter, Herta in 1911.
Innovating at Home
In the early 1900s, coffee was a household staple. By pouring hot water over a cloth bag, or via an espresso-like machine, the popular breakfast drink was made. However, at the turn of the 20th century, both of these practices frequently left grounds of coffee in the drink. Despite metal filtering devices available at the time, Melitta still found her coffee full of grinds and bitter.
Determined to have a cup of Joe without the grinds, Melitta began experimenting. She perforated a brass cup with nails and then used blotting paper from Willy’s school book to line the cup. The result? A simple fix to create less bitter, more fragrant coffee—grounds-free.
Building a Business
Melitta’s grounds-free coffee was well received by those she shared it with, which led her to set up her own company. On June 20, 1908, the Imperial Patent Office granted Melitta a patent for her filter. Later that year, in December, her company, M. Bentz, was entered into the commercial register and Melitta was officially in business.
Melitta’s first employees were none other than her own husband and sons. In 1909, just a year after Melitta began her company, she sold 1,200 filters at the Leipzig Fair. The following year, in 1910, her business was awarded a gold medal at the International Health Exhibition. And, over the years, the awards kept on coming.
Melitta’s company continued to grow and moved to several different locations in Dresden to accommodate for expansions. By 1929, she had produced 100,000 filters. In the same year, the company’s headquarters was moved to Minden in Westphalia. Melitta made sure her employees were always well cared for, and she even set Melitta Aid, a social fund for her workers.
In 1930, Horst took over running the business, but Melitta continued to have a presence in the business. In 1932, the company is renamed Melitta-Werke AG.
During World War II, the company was ordered to make goods for the war, but in 1948, the production of coffee filters began again. In 1950 at 77 years old, Melitta passed away, but her spirit of innovation and the brand she created lived on. During the year of her death, the company was worth 4.7 million Deutsche Marks. Today the Melitta Group KG has grown to include 50 companies, more than 3,000 employees and is still in the family, controlled by Melitta’s grandsons, Thomas and Stephen Bentz.
Julia Child became a recognizable household name for her contribution in bringing fine French cuisine into American homes. A chef, author and television host, even after her death, Child still makes an impact in many people’s kitchens daily.
Born to the name Julia Carolyn McWilliams in 1912 in Pasadena California, the oldest of three children, Julia was grew up in a wealthy household. Her father, John McWilliams, invested early in California real estate and became an influential landowner, while her mother, Julia Weston, was an heiress to a paper company. Additionally, her grandfather, on her mother’s side was the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts.
Educated at elite prep schools, Julia not only grew to be well educated, but also a prankster measuring at 6’2” tall -- taller than anyone in her class. Despite the master cook she would become, Julia didn’t spend much time in the kitchen during her childhood.
In fact, in 1930, she enrolled in Smith College with aspirations to become a writer. While in college she played sports and attempted unsuccessfully to get her work published by the New Yorker. After graduation, Julia moved to New York to work as a copywriter at W&J Sloane, a home furnishing company.
Service During War
Like many, Julia joined the war effort. Too tall to enlist in the Women’s Army Corps, she took on a post by volunteering for the newly developed Office of Strategic Services as a typist. Due to her education, she quickly rose to a different post where she began working as a secret researcher. In this role, Julia traveled to a variety of posts in Washington, DC, China and Sri Lanka, where she became involved with one of her colleagues, Paul Child. While in Sri Lanka, Julia got her first experience in the cooking world, but not in the way one might think. She was tasked with finding a solution for how to stop sharks from setting off OSS explosive devices. Her solution? Experimentation with concocting shark repellent mixtures.
Introduction to French Cuisine
Paul and Julia returned to the U.S. after the war and were married in 1946. Though from New Jersey, Paul spent time living in Paris and introduced Julia to French cuisine, and, in 1948 when Paul was assigned as an exhibits officer for the US Information Agency in Paris, the couple moved to France. During this time, Julia attended the renowned Cordon Bleu cooking school.
While at the Cordon Bleu, Julia joined Le Cercle des Gourmettes, an exclusive women’s cooking circle in Paris. In this group, Julia formed friendships with fellow Cordon Bleu students, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. Beck and Bertholle were working on a French cookbook for Americans and brought Julia into their goal. For more than a decade, the three tested recipes and experimented with cuisine for consideration in the cookbook. The conclusion? A 734 page cook book weighing three pounds. Due to this extensive detail, the women’s original publisher denied the manuscript.
However, in 1961, Alfred A. Knopf saw the value in bringing a cookbook of this sort to America and published the manuscript under the title, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The book not only was pervasive in its details, but it also included illustrations -- all this contributing to the cookbook remaining a bestseller for half a decade. Still today, Mastering the Art of French Cooking is a staple in many American kitchens.
From Publishing to Television
Julia promoted Mastering the Art of French Cooking locally with television stations in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and due to the very high responses received, WGBH asked Julia to film her own series, “The French Chef.” The show, which premiered in 1962, helped change the way Americans related to food, cooking and cuisine. In her very first episode, Julia showed audiences how to cook an omelette. Due to the show’s immediate success, it was soon syndicated to 96 stations throughout the U.S., which prompted Julia into becoming a nationally recognized TV personality.
The French Chef ran for a decade, winning numerous awards such as the prestigious Peabody. The show was so popular that it became the first to run captions for deaf audiences. Julia went on to be incredibly successful with multiple television shows such as Julia Child and Company, Julia Child and More Company and Dinner with Julia’s. She also founded the American Institute of Food & Wine in 1981. Not to mention the slew of cookbooks she went onto write, which included Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs (1995), Baking with Julia (1996), Julia's Delicious Little Dinners (1998), and Julia's Casual Dinners (1999).
Julia was the first woman to ever be inducted into the Culinary Institute Hall of Fame in 1993 and in 2000 she was named with one of France’s highest honors as the Legion d’Honneur. Her influences in American culinary culture that the Smithsonian National Museum of American History showcases Julia’s kitchen.
In 2004, Julia died from kidney failure, but she is described to have vibrant and working up until her last days.
Diane von Fürstenberg may have been a princess, but it’s her work in fashion, bringing comfort and style to working women, that made her an icon. Diane’s signature wrap dress transformed the way women dressed, and ultimately made her into one of the most successful designers in our time.
The designer was born in Brussels, Belgium on New Year’s Eve in 1946. Diane grew up in a comfortable home with her parents Leon and Liliane Nahmias Halfin. Liana survived after being held at a Nazi concentration camp during World War II and raised Diane to be confident and not succumb to fear. Diane attended finishing schools in Spain, England and Switzerland and attended Madrid University before transferring to the University of Geneva in 1966 to study economics.
Falling in Love and Becoming a Princess
At the University of Geneva, Diane met Prince Eduard Egon von Furstenberg, a German socialite and aristocrat who was heir to the Fiat fortune. The two fell in love and married in 1969. That same year, the couple moved to New York City. Despite the fact that Diane was now a princess and really had no need to work, she was determined to not be defined by simply her title and state. In a 1977 interview with the New York Times, Diane said, "The minute I knew I was about to be Egon's wife, I decided to have a career. I wanted to be someone of my own, and not just a plain little girl who got married beyond her desserts.”
And that she did.
Diane’s Career and the Creation of her Iconic Wrap Dress
With little experience, Diane began working on a clothing line from her dining room table in her Park Avenue apartment. By 1970, she was already showing her first collection and just two years later the designer had her own manufacturing business. But, it was in 1974 when Diane introduced her iconic, jersey knit “wrap” dress, which launched her clothing line and career to be featured on the front of well known and respected publications like Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal. The dress changed women's apparel in the office by presenting a comfortable and adaptable wardrobe solution that could be worn in and outside of the office. Soon she launched her own perfume line too.
Unfortunately, Diane’s personal life began crumbling at the same time her career took off. She and her husband separated in 1975 and ultimately divorced in 1983. Facing financial troubles, Diane moved to Paris where she established a French publishing house. Along the way she started several other businesses in cosmetics and in the early 1990s sold Silk Assets on the QVC shopping channel, a sale that helped her move back to the U.S. and eventually relaunch her company in 1997.
Diane’s perseverance and determination to contribute influenced how half of the workforce has dressed for decades. She’s also shared her story by publishing an autobiography and memoirs and she continues to give back to others. Diane serves as the director of The Diller - von Fürstenberg Family Foundation, which supports nonprofits helping to provide community building, arts and education, human rights and more.
Diane Sawyer broke through new ground as a women journalist, becoming the first female correspondent on 60 Minutes and the anchor of ABC World News.
Sawyer was born with the name Lila Diane Sawyer in Glasgow, Kentucky in 1945. Sawyer was one of three girls. Her father was a Republican politician and former Navy Captain during World War II and her mother was a grade school teacher. In high school Sawyer sang in choir and was the editor of her school newspaper. Sawyer also won the 1963 Miss Junior Miss of America pageant, which allowed her to tour across the country promoting the Coca-Cola Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair in 1964-65. The experience gave Sawyer the confidence and experience to think under pressure with grace.
Following high school, Sawyer, like her older sister Linda, attended the distinguished all girl Wellesley University in Massachusetts. Upon graduation with an English degree in 1967, Sawyer headed back to Kentucky.
Early Career: Journalism and Politics
Despite originally wanting to be a lawyer, after one semester at the University of Louisville’s law school, Sawyer decided her true calling was in journalism. Her first job in the field was a weather reporter for a local Louisville television station. Sawyer was not satisfied with just the weather. She worked into the night to learn how to work the camera and edit film, and she fought for actual news assignments. Eventually, Sawyer’s work paid off and she was promoted to a full-time news reporter.
In 1970, Sawyer went to Washington to work as a press assistant for President Nixon’s White House. She earned the nickname of “the smart girl” from the president. After Nixon’s resignation, Sawyer loyally followed the disgraced president and assisted Nixon in writing his memoirs.
From Politics back to Journalism
After four years, Sawyer finally left politics and returned journalism as a CBS New correspondant. Sawyer rose through the different programs and up in the ranks and in 1984, she blazed a new trail for women journalists when she became the first female correspondent of the respected news magazine 60 Minutes. Five years later, Sawyer switched networks to work on ABC’s Primetime Live with Sam Donaldson. Sawyer also co-anchored ABC’s 20/20 from 1998 to 2000. And, in 1999 she returned to a.m. news co-anchoring Charles Gibson on Good Morning America. She would later return to Primetime in 2000 and cover important stories like the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. Sawyer stayed at Primetime until 2006 when she moved onto become the anchor of ABC World News, the flagship evening news program.
From growing up as the middle child in a small town in Kentucky to becoming the anchor of one of the most prominent news programs in the country, Sawyer is a role model to all aspiring young journalists. She’s won numerous awards, has been inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame and still continues to find and share important news stories with the nation.
Known for her marksmanship and her time spent performing with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, Annie Oakley made a name for herself in what, at her time, was considered a male dominated space.
Born to the name Phoebe Ann Moses in August of 1860 in Darke County, Ohio, Oakley experienced family losses early on in life. Both her father and step father died when she was a just a kid.
Until 10, Oakley lived at the county poor farm as a child. At the age of 10, Oakley was sent to work for a family that did not treat her well, which consequently led to Oakley running away and eventually reuniting with her mother. As a teen, Oakley honed in on her shooting and used her talent and marksmanship to earn money for her family by shooting game in the woods and selling it to a local shopkeeper. In fact, Oakley earned enough money to pay off her mother’s mortgage.
Rising to be a Sharpshooter and Star
Shortly after this, in 1875, Oakley decided to enter a shooting competition against a top touring shooter, Frank Butler. At only age 15, Oakley won not only the Thanksgiving Day match, but also Butler’s heart. The following year, the couple married and Butler continued touring with his male partner, until 1882, when his partner died and Oakley stepped on stage to join her husband. Crowds were so impressed by Oakley’s shooting that she soon became the main star and Butler stepped back to manage his wife’s widely popular act. Oakley made her own costumes, often described as modest or conservative, which helped distinguish her as she toured along the vaudeville circuit.
In 1885, Oakley joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, a show where for the next 17 years she would perform and entertain audiences by shooting corks off bottles, holes through playing cards and more tricks . Two years later, at the American Exposition in London, Oakley gained international fame when she performed with Buffalo Bill Cody’s show in front of influential audience members such as Queen Elizabeth who remarked that Oakley was a “clever little girl.”
In 1901, both Oakley and Butler suffered injuries in a train accident, which stopped Oakley from performing in the short term, but she was able to recover and return the stage. Not long after the accident, Oakley left the Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, and began starring in a different role, one written for her, in the melodrama The Western Girl. Later in the decade, Oakley once again joined another western show before retiring with Butler in 1913.
World War I and Later Life
During the Great War, Oakley offered to both organize and train a regiment of women sharpshooters, but her petition to do so was ignored by the government. After this, Oakley transferred her efforts into raising money for the Red Cross through shooting demonstrations at Army camps.
Oakley died on Nov. 3, 1926, and 18 days later, Butler, her husband of 50 years also passed. Oakley’s contribution and mark in the west as a strong woman made a sharp, long lasting impact.