Charlotte Cramer Sachs (born 1907)
Biographical / Historical
Charlotte Cramer Sachs was born in Berlin, Germany on September 27, 1907. Her father, Hans Siegfried Cramer, worked as a businessman for a successful grain import and export company whose innovative enterprises included the import of soy beans from Eastern Europe. In 1903, Hans married Gertrud Bruck, one of the first women to attain her Abitur, somewhat similar to an American high school diploma, at age eighteen. Bruck's formal education ended there, as her wish to attend university was thwarted by her father Adalbert, a judge who insisted that she remain at home. The couple settled in Berlin and had two children—Frederick H., born March 2, 1906, and Charlotte. From 1913 to 1924 The Cramers lived in the Berlin Dahlem suburb occupying "Haus Cramer," a villa built in 1912 to their specifications by German architect Hermann Muthesius.
On September 12, 1924, Cramer Sachs married Donald Samuels, a top executive of the Manhattan Shirt Company and moved to New York from England where their daughter Eleanor was born on June 11, 1926. Several years later, the couple divorced. Mother and daughter lived together in London for a few years before moving back to New York around 1936. Charlotte's parents relocated to New York at the same time, after a brief stay in London following their flight from Berlin after Hitler's rise to power. In August 1945, Charlotte Cramer married Alexander Sachs, a leading economist who had introduced Albert Einstein to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and acted as advisor to the President.
Although she established her business career in America, Cramer Sachs retained fond memories of the house and extensive grounds in Dahlem. In 1977 she composed the song "A Salute to Berlin" to commemorate the designation of Haus Cramer as one of the city's historic landmarks. In 2000, she donated a painted portrait of herself from the time she had lived in Haus Cramer to the villa's new owner, Stanford University. The house retains additional significance in the context of this collection because Cramer Sachs credited its wine cellar—unusual in that it provided a separate, climate controlled environment for red and white wines—as an inspiration for her line of custom-built, vibration-free wine storage devices, which would later make Cramer Products Company a household name among wine connoisseurs.
While she did not attend university her pursuit of learning continued throughout her life as she studied poetry, musical composition, and the fine arts. Cramer Sachs often told her niece, Lilian Randall, that she wished she had received further education, although her public art exhibitions, poetry awards, numerous original songs, the establishment of Crambruck Press (her own publishing company), as well as language fluency in French, English, and German, are testaments to this inventor's intellectual curiosity and development. Evidence of Cramer Sachs's entrepreneurial spirit surfaced in her early thirties with her first patent: Improvements in Combined Key and Flashlight, July 16, 1940, patent number 2,208,498.
In 1940, Cramer Sachs completed courses from the New York Institute of Dietetics, an effort spurred by the onset of her daughter's diabetes. With financial assistance from her parents in the early 1940s, Cramer Sachs developed Joy Products prepared mixes, marking the beginning of a successful career in inventing. "We were a pioneer in that field," said Cramer Sachs of her baking mix manufacturing company, an operation that consisted of a Bronx neighborhood factory employing ninety workers. The enterprise began with corn muffin and popover mixes and expanded into frostings, puddings, and breads. Newspaper clippings from the time promoted Joy packaged mixes as ideal gifts for "the boys overseas" who were in locations where it was "impossible to get together the makings of a cake." Cramer Sachs refused an early offer to sell her mix formulas which were subsequently copied and exploited by larger, more powerful companies. Joy Products, whose name was chosen to express the inventor's delight in creativity, remained in business as a modest one-woman operation for over twenty years before succumbing to competition.
Cramer Sachs created another highly successful invention, the specialty wine cabinet, more than twenty years after she founded Joy Products. In addition to her memories of visits with her father to the wine cellar in her family's German villa, further motivation came from an interest—though she hardly drank it at all—in wine and recognition that "standard cooling and refrigerating appliances [were] too cold for wines." Reportedly, Cramer Sachs "started looking for [an appropriate device] and could not find one," and thus the impetus to invent took shape. The "Modern Wine Cellar," 1966, was an early example of over twenty wine-related inventions, most of them storage devices. A mention of her product in Grossman's Guide to Wines, Spirits, and Beers, increased demand among wine lovers and may have prompted Cramer Sachs to state that she "should find a good market" for her newest invention line. Testimony from David H. Wollins, a successful New York lawyer and customer of Cramer Sachs, lauded the cabinet as "the finest home wine storage system in the world." She framed his letter and hung it in her office at 381 South Park Avenue, her base operation where she employed one or two part-time helpers from the 1960s until her death in 2004.
The inventor took great joy in music, expressed in her own numerous compositions and her creation of the games "Domi-Notes" and "Musicards" in 1961 and 1969. Her fondness for music also prompted the expansion of her specialty cabinets to include temperature and humidity controlled devices for storing a variety of items, most notably the "Well Tempered Cabinet for Musical Instruments," which Cramer Sachs first designed for legendary violinist Isaac Stern. Soon the inventor began producing similar cabinets for the storage of cigars, furs, and documents.
Described by her niece as "shy with people but a great admirer of talent, intellect, and humanity," Cramer Sachs also "harbored a great love for animals." She invented several pet accessories in the early 1950s, including: "Watch-Dog," a dog collar with a time piece; "Bonnie Stand," a holder fashioned to accommodate disposable food bowls; and "Guidog," an early version of a retractable dog leash.
In 1972, Cramer Sachs suffered the loss of her only child, Eleanor, and in the summer of the next year her husband Alexander passed away. She continued her "business of creating new product ideas" for the remainder of her life. The most recent invention materials represented in the collection are those for the "Conservator" from 2002, a temperature and humidity controlled device with compartments to store a variety of items. In her last telephone conversation with her niece, on March 10, 2004, Cramer Sachs expressed her hope that she would feel "strong enough to get to the office the next day or so." The inventor died the following day at the age of 96.
Patents issued to Charlotte Cramer Sachs:
United States Patent: 2,208,498, "Combined Key and Flashlight," July 16, 1940
United States Patent: 2,509,423, "Wedge Heel Shoe," May 30, 1950
United States Patent: 2,808,191, "Lap Tray," October 1, 1957
United States Patent: Des. 363,618, "Cabinet," October 31, 1995