© 2024 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Italy Says Goodbye To Renato Bialetti, The Man Behind Its Iconic Coffee Hardware


Finally, a morning ritual dear to many of us - I might even say essential is the making of morning coffee. That ritual varies depending on where you are. For Italians, the iconic coffee hardware is the Bialetti Moka Express. It's an eight-sided aluminum coffeemaker heated on the stove and embossed on the side with the image of a man with a mustache. This week, the world said goodbye to the man behind that image, Renato Bialetti. He died on February 11 in Switzerland. He was 93. With more than 200 million of these stovetop coffee makers in the world, Bialetti could be described as a Steve Jobs of stovetop coffeemakers. His father Alberto (ph) actually invented the Moka Express in the 1930s with inspiration from a surprising source.

CYNTHIA TROPE: Apparently, he was inspired by watching his wife do laundry. And it was sort of a primitive washing apparatus that involved a tub with a lid that had a tube. And he just had the brilliant idea to sort of translate this for coffee making.

MARTIN: Cynthia Trope is a curator with the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. She says the coffeemaker's sharp, art-deco design and use of aluminum suggested a cup of coffee from the future.

JEFFREY SCHNAPP: Alfonso may have been clever metallurgist, but he had no experience with design or marketing. And it was there that his son Renato became an absolute key figure in the worldwide success of the Moka Express.

MARTIN: That's Harvard professor Jeffrey Schnapp, who wrote about the history of the Bialetti. After World War II, Renato took his father's modest company and turned it into a coffee percolation empire.

SCHNAPP: Adopting what at the time were some really imaginative advertising techniques - Titanic-sized Moka Expresses were built to line the roads of the city of Milan at the time of the launch of the Moka's first campaigns.

MARTIN: He invested in billboards and television commercials urging Italians to make their coffee at home, promising an espresso just like a cafe.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Italian).

MARTIN: The strategy worked. Renato made the company into an international brand. Services for Renato Bialetti were held last week. His ashes were interred in - what else? - a giant Bialetti Moka Express.


UNIDENTIFIED MEN: (Singing) Product of Bialetti... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: February 24, 2016 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous version of this story stated the name of the executive was Renato Moka. In fact, it's Renato Bialetti.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Journalism at this station is made possible by donors who value local reporting. Donate today to keep stories like this one coming. It is thanks to your generosity that we can keep this content free and accessible for everyone. Thanks!