NORTH AMERICAN SYSTEMS, INC., was a leading producer of automatic drip coffeemakers. The company was founded in SHAKER HTS. in 1970 by former homebuilder and shopping center developer VINCENT G. MAROTTA. Marotta and longtime friend Samuel L. Glazer had entered the construction business in 1949, building suburban homes and, after 1957, shopping centers, most notably Great Lakes Mall in Mentor. Marotta served as president of the Glazer-Marotta Co. from 1949-68. When money for mortgages became more difficult to obtain, Marotta decided to diversify his interests and entered the coffee-distribution business with Glazer in 1968, initially placing industrial-grade coffee machines in offices, gas stations, and other businesses that agreed to purchase coffee by the case. Soon Marotta turned his attention toward developing a household coffeemaker that might render the percolator obsolete. He and former WESTINGHOUSE ELECTRIC CORP. engineers Edmund Abel and Erwin Schulze developed the Mr. Coffee machine in 1971, which they patented, and began production in a plant at 23750 Mercantile Rd. in BEACHWOOD. In 1973, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio became the official spokesman in televised commercials that made Mr. Coffee a household name. By April 1974 the company, with 125 sales representatives and 300 employees, had sold 1 million coffeemakers, capturing 10% of the U.S. coffee-making business. In June 1974 the firm acquired the Fairfield Coffee Filter Division of Tomlinson Industries, Inc., at 5433 Perkins Rd. in BEDFORD HTS. Within a year, North American, now considered the largest manufacturer of coffeemakers in the country, had moved to 24700 Miles Rd. in Bedford Hts., and added a plant in Los Angeles, CA. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the company employed 2,300 people—1,500 of them in Bedford Hts.
The success of the Mr. Coffee machines spawned a number of imitations, which in turn forced the company to spend much time in court during the 1980s bringing suits for trademark violations against such rival products as Mr. Automatic and Mrs. Coffee. North American shifted some of its manufacturing to China in 1985. Two years later, Marotta and Glazer sold the company to an investment partnership headed by a former Revere Ware executive, whereupon it became Mr. Coffee, Inc. By 1990 Mr. Coffee was suffering from the weight of high-interest rate loans and poor junk bond investments, and by 1994 the company was bought by the smaller Health-o-Meter Products, Inc., of Bridgeview, IL, for $186.5 million. In 1997, Health-o-Meter became Signature Brands and moved its headquarters and production from Bedford Hts. to GLENWILLOW, which lured the firm with a 100% 15-year tax abatement. In 1998, Florida-based Sunbeam Corp. (later a subsidiary of American Household, Inc.) bought Signature. Two years later, Sunbeam closed its Glenwillow Mr. Coffee plant, which by that time employed only 339 workers, and moved production to Hattiesburg, MS, and Matamoros, Mexico. Sunbeam’s acquisitions-related debts sent it into bankruptcy in 2001, and when it emerged, it shifted all production of Mr. Coffee to China, where it remained through two further brand acquisitions by Jarden Corp. (2004) and Newell Brands (2016).
Updated by Mark Souther