A French tinsmith invented the macchinetta Napoletana in 1819. Not much is known about the pot's history beyond that, including when it was introduced to Italy. Only in 1946 did the famous actor, Eduardo De Filippo, make the pot popular in his movie Questi Fantasmi or Three Ghosts. De Filippo holds up the pot and says it's important to put a little paper cone over the spout while the water drains through the grinds; this keeps in the aromas.
While during the early 1900's northern Italians had invented the espresso machine and coffee house culture took hold there, neither of these gained much popularity in the south. Instead, even today, coffee is brewed mostly in the home. While southern Italians now use the Moka pot, the macchinetta Napoletana still remains a quintessentially southern tradition.
This just in from a reader and on-line friend of mine: Gilbert Milone. He found his old grandmother's macchinetta napoletana and sent me the pictures. She used this pot during the 1940's and 1950's -- a pot that is no longer available for sale in Naples or world-wide. It's a true antique:
Thank you Gil for sharing these wonderful photos!