Dorothea Lange’s ability to capture, and humanize, the hardship and struggles during the American Great Depression, made a lasting impact in the field of photojournalism and documentary photography. Furthermore, by capturing what she saw, and sharing it, others were able to not only see, but empathize with trials of the time.
Born in 1895 as Dorothea Margaretta Nutzhorn in Hoboken New Jersey, Dorothea was raised by parents who placed value on education and creativity. Her father was a lawyer and her mother stayed at home to raise Dorothea and her brother, Martin. At the age of seven, Dorothea contracted Polio, which left her right side weakened for life. Though traumatic, Dorothea said the illness made a lasting impact on who she became as a woman. “It formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me and humiliated me,” Lange once said. The experience and its lasting impacts helped Lange empathize with those she photographed later in her live.
In her early teens, Dorothea’s parents divorced and resulted in a falling out that led Dorothea to drop her father’s last name and assume “Lange,” her mother’s maiden name. Lange graduated from a high school for girls and wen on to study photography at Columbia University. During this time, Dorothea took on apprenticeships with influential photographers, such as the esteemed Arnold Genthe, a portrait photographer, and took classes taught by Clarence Hudson White.
Making Career Strides
In 1918, Dorothea left New York for San Francisco where she opened up her own portrait studio. In 1920, she married painter Maynard Dixon, and the couple went on to have two sons, Daniel and John. With a tumultuous political economic climate, Dorothea stepped from inside her studio and took her camera outside.
She began by photographing events occurring on the streets around her - from strikes to breadlines. In fact, in 1933, her studies of the times led to White Angel Breadline, which showed a man turned away from a soup kitchen. Her photograph not only caught the attention of other photojournalists, but led to the beginning of Dorothea’s career with what eventually became the Federal Security Administration.
In 1935, Dorothea divorced Dixon and married Paul Taylor, a University of California at Berkeley professor of economics. Over the next half decade, the two traveled and documented poverty and hardship with Paul writing reports and Dorothea taking photos. During this time, Dorothea captured Migrant Mother, one of her most known works, which showcases the suffering and despair of a mother -- a feeling experienced by many Americans during the time.
Following her work’s truth and success, Dorothea Lange became the first to be awarded the Guggenheim fellowship in 1940.
Wartime and Later Years
The Office of War Information hired Dorothea to document the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. After the war, she co-founded Aperture, a photography magazine as well as shot photos for other while known publications such as Life magazine and traveled with her husband Paul to his work related assignments around the world. Though still very active, Dorothea’s health declined in the last two decades of her life, and in October 1985, she passed away of esophageal cancer.
Yet, still today, she Dorothea Lange continues to inspire photographers. Dorothea’s images, the truth they showcased and her empathy behind the lens not only made a lasting impact in the field of photography, but her approach and mentality also continues to live on in 21st century documentary and photojournalists.
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.