NORTH AMERICAN SYSTEMS, INC., a leading producer of automatic drip coffeemakers since 1975, began in the late 1960s by Cleveland shopping-mall and housing developer Vincent G. Marotta. Marotta had entered the construction business in 1949, building homes and, after 1955, shopping malls such as the Richmond and Great Lakes malls. Marotta served as president of the Glazer-Marotta Co. from 1949-68; he resigned when money for mortgages became more difficult to obtain. He decided to diversify his business interests and entered the coffee-making business. Marotta and engineers Edward Able 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. 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 California. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the company employed 2,300 people--1,500 of them in Greater Cleveland. 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. 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.