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Wednesday, June 11, 2003

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Mister Maximum

Vienna Austria, June 11, 1974 - Today Gero Artmer has received notice from the United States Patent Office that his patent application has been accepted and assigned number 3,815,448. Here is the background behind his invention.

Jean Rochat of Geneva, Switzerland invented a method to use the gas cylinders to facilitate extraction of a cork. Contrary to prior art, the gas did not enter the bottle. The gas was used to move a piston, which would pull the cork out of the bottle after it had been penetrated by a worm. Rochat applied for a Swiss patent on November 7, 1963, which was granted September 15, 1965 (No. 399,219). In 1966 his idea was patented in Germany as well.

Before detailing his invention, Rochat points out that cork ejectors with needles are well known but dangerous. His complicated mechanism then takes three pages to explain. Simplified it works like this: The whole unit is turned to insert the worm into the cork, moving the lever causes the gas cartridge to make contact with a spindle which opens the valve, the gas pushes the top piston away from a shoulder, and the worm and cork are then pulled into the bottom cylinder.

After studying the Rochat patent, Austrian inventor Gero Artmer commented:

1. I never saw a production model and doubt that it was produced.
2. It is hard to screw the worm in. The description says the actuation lever can help the grip but this could be dangerous when touched.
3. In opening a bottle, it is suggested that the lever be pushed carefully - there is no safety valve.
4. Mechanically it is very complicated. There are too many chances for malfunction and the cost to produce would be prohibitive in a competitive market.

Throughout the 1960s, air and gas cork ejectors were popular and a well accepted method of removing a cork. They were simple and easy to use. Rochat's expensive idea would not have a chance for survival during that time period. By the 1970s, ejectors had begun to receive some bad, and likely unfounded, press. There are references to bottle breakage and wine spoilage. Corkscrews were as popular as ever and inventions and re-inventions kept on coming as they had for a couple of hundred years. They would always survive. Looking back at the patent chronologies at the conclusions of the air and gas cork ejector chapters, one can see a number of patents issued in the 1960s.

Artmer contends that the ejector business was dying in the early 1970s. He had begun production of an air model in 1966 and by 1971 business slowed and he gave it up. The 70s needed a new idea he thought. So he got busy on a new concept and by 1972 his "Mister Maximum" was in full swing.

Like Rochat, Artmer tinkered with the idea of using the gas advantage externally. His device would allow him to turn the worm into the cork, push a button, and the cork would be automatically extracted. Artmer submitted his patent application to the Austrian Patent Office on October 22, 1971. Patent Number 305,071 was issued May 15, 1972 and officially announced February 12, 1973.

In his discussion of prior art, Artmer considered the 1950 French invention of Gabriel François-Antoine Cognet. Cognet penetrated the cork with a worm and then used liquid in a piston arrangement to extract it. Artmer says "…the cork is extracted by a single stroke of the pump and so, in order to exert the necessary force, the stroke of the pump must be long, thereby rendering the bottle opener extremely clumsy." An alternative suggested by Cognet would require several strokes of the pump. Artmer continues with "…it is highly dubious whether such a bottle opener would be capable of functioning under practical conditions."

Artmer then addresses the gas cartridge ejectors with needles. Referring to the 1963 Swiss Kisag Patent, he says, "Because the cannula must be sharpened to a point, a danger of injury or damage exists…the gas…influences the liquid present [in the bottle] because the gas customarily used dissolves in the wine." His most scathing remark comes just before the presentation of his idea: "…the most serious disadvantage to this type of bottle opener is that many bottles cannot withstand the pressure of gas which builds up and explode. This can lead to extremely serious injuries; bottle openers of this type cannot be sold in a number of countries for this reason."

Artmer uses a gas cartridge in his invention, the Mister Maximum, but says, "Unlike all similar devices M. M. produces no pressure in the bottle! A tube acts on the lip of the bottle and lifts up the cork!" He uses a worm attached to one sliding part combined with another sliding part containing the CO2 cartridge and release mechanism. To best describe how it works after the worm is screwed into the cork, here's the copy from Mister Maximum:

For those interested in the technical side, the operation can be explained as follows: By pressing the button, CO2 is forced under pressure into the M. M. and the tube is pushed out. But the tip of the bottle resists the motion of the tube, so that the corkscrew pulls out the cork.

Mister Maximum Runs Out of Gas

Vienna Austria, June 11, 2003 - The story of Artmer's invention continues.

World patents were obtained for the Mister Maximum and the product was sold in twenty-four countries. Wholesalers, importers, big catalogs, and individuals clamored for the product. In the United States, Fortunoff in New York City took out huge advertisements in the newspapers offering Mister Maximum for $20.00. The biggest dealer in Germany, Eilers-Werke, put it on the front cover of their 1973 publication announcing it as "Der Korkenzieher des Jahrhunderts" (Corkscrew of the Century). The plastic Mister Maximum was produced in several colors including orange, black, burgundy, and yellow. In 1973 the Association of Austrian Inventors awarded a Gold Medal to Artmer for his invention.

In reflecting upon the period, nearly 30 years after his product was first produced, Artmer said, "I was no producer, I was an importer. I had the general agency for Corkmaster in Austria and I also imported the air-pressure Corky from Switzerland. But I complained about the faults in these products. Needles weren't protected if the cap was lost and needles were hard to insert. So they told me to come up with a better idea and I made the Gero [Cork Up] from 1966 to 1971. But I always dreamed of the best corkscrew without faults."

In the first year of production, he sold 240,000 pieces of the Mister Maximum. By 1975, Artmer felt "It was clear that the item would die in a short time. Mister Maximum was the first 100% safe CO2 pressure item. But the CO2 cartridge ejectors had received some bad press and people were afraid of the 'bomb'. They thought bottles would explode. In 1976 I stopped production. I had sold nearly 400,000 pieces yet I never in my life wanted to produce any item!"

The Mister Maximum Photo Album

On June 28, 2001, Gero Artmer looked back and said, "But what if things had been the other way around? What if Mister Maximum came first and then the Corkmaster?"

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©2003 Don Bull, Editor


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