Olivetti’s typewriter: a story of innovation at Ivrea

  • 09/05/2019  |
Olivetti’s typewriter: a story of innovation at Ivrea

By: Antonio Potenza

Someone might say that was Macintosh the first personal computer. Mistaken.
Few people know that actually the first one was called P101, created by Adriano Olivetti in 1965. This model, along with other precious typewriters, was exhibited at the Museo del Novecento, in Milan. They are included in the “Olivetti, una storia di innovazione” exhibition. The latter was promoted in collaboration with the Olivetti Association Historical Archive and Adriano Olivetti Foundation. In addition, the exhibition was part of a program full of events on technology and innovation at the Milano Digital Week in April. The Museum housed a small part of the history of Italian technological innovation. The exhibition itinerary followed the characteristic elements of Olivetti’s company: the typewriters and a new work-time idea.

In fact, the exhibition walls hanged photos of the interiors of the company accompanied by the major aphorisms attributed to Adriano Olivetti. His figure has double importance: on the first hand, there is undoubtedly the intuition of the typewriter; on the other hand, the conception of a new idea of company and workplace. He not only has tried to rejuvenate the work plan, but also he tried to revolutionize the work by releasing it from the factory’s ecosystem: for example, thinking dormitories, refectories and commonplaces close to the company itself. Furthermore, the design has been fundamental to this. In fact, Olivetti’s company architecture received many awards in the 60s, and 70s too.

And then they need no introduction. Olivetti’s typewriter intuition is recognized all over the world. We must probably thank Olivetti if we can use our personal computer to work and spend our free time today. Because of its popularity in the 80s, many people believe that the credit for bringing the PC in our homes is to be attributed to Steve Jobs. But the times are clear: Olivetti has been working earlier on typewriters. Suffice is to say that the prototype of the first typewriter is from 1911. Its name is M1 and it is exhibited in the show. With it there are various interesting models like Divisumma 24, which is an electronic calculator; or Lettera 22, a type of portable typewriter; finally P101, the first desktop personal computer of 1965.

In the second part, the exhibition showed technological research and modern innovations carried out by the company. All of this was very important and fundamental to obtain a great result for Ivrea, the city where Olivetti’s company was hosted. Ivrea currently is a Unesco World Heritage Site because it developed as a testbed for Olivetti and his production of typewriters, mechanical calculators and office computer. UNESCO wanted to reward the company’s complex of buildings, designed to serve the administration and social services, as well as residential units. Finally, Olivetti’s new idea about working time was awarded.

So, Ivrea has been called the Industrial City of the 20th century. It had been founded by Camillo Olivetti for his company, later it became a real urban centre. Now the city remains fundamental for industries that revolve around it. For example, Rgi Group is one of them. It is an Independent Software Vendor, a European leader in the digital transformation of Insurers. Like many other industries, it was born around the Ivrea hub.

In the heart of the city it is possible to discover Tecnologic@mente, a museum dedicated to the history of Olivetti. In particular, it is both a museum and a laboratory, and tells a part of the Italian industrial history highlighting the Olivetti’s productions and culture. The laboratory is addressed to schools and to the younger generations, to stimulate not only creativity and willingness to experiment in order to imagine the future, but also the desire to discover our history and roots. So, Olivetti’s story is still an example.

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