THE STORY OF AN ITAL­IAN REV­O­LU­TION

All About Italy (USA) - - Editorial - Paolo Del Panta

Adri­ano Olivetti

The “first na­tional man­u­fac­turer of type­writ­ers” was es­tab­lished long ago in 1908 and from its be­gin­nings in the world of Ital­ian en­ter­prise dis­tin­guished it­self for its at­ten­tion to tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion, in­spired de­sign, an in­ter­na­tional pres­ence and its sen­si­tiv­ity to the so­cial as­pects of work. This is all due to founder Camillo Olivetti and his son Adri­ano, who suc­ceeded within a brief pe­riod in giv­ing the fam­ily busi­ness the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a mod­ern in­dus­trial group, and plac­ing them­selves among the lead­ers in the mar­ket for of­fice ap­pli­ances. Nev­er­the­less, in the 1950s Olivetti in­vested in elec­tronic tech­nol­ogy with im­por­tant re­sults: thus was born the myth­i­cal Let­tera 22 type­writer, the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a per­fect storm of engi­neer­ing de­signed to be at once light, ef­fi­cient, and durable. This sym­bol of type­writ­ing and writ­ing in gen­eral was born in 1950 in the in­tu­itive mind of Mar­cello Niz­zoli, an Ital­ian de­signer who had col­lab­o­rated with Olivetti since 1938. More than just an ob­ject, the Let­tera 22 is a sym­bol of el­e­gance and func­tion­al­ity, thanks to its clean and com­pact lines, the key­board flush within the frame, the em­bed­ded roller with only the knob stick­ing out, and the ex­tremely er­gonomic form of the line space lever.

It was an ob­ject that fully re­sponded to the de­mands of trans­porta­bil­ity and space sav­ing for its users, thanks also to the han­dled (and handy) car­ry­ing case that came with it; in 1959 this con­ve­nience and beauty earned it recog­ni­tion by a com­mis­sion of 100 de­sign­ers from the Illi­nois Tech­no­log­i­cal In­sti­tute as the best de­sign prod­uct of the last 100 years. To­day this Ital­ian style icon is part of the per­ma­nent de­sign col­lec­tion of New York’s MOMA and the in­de­fati­ga­ble trav­el­ing com­pan­ion of nu­mer­ous il­lus­tri­ous writ­ers and jour­nal­ists, some­thing which they have not re­nounced even with the ad­vent of elec­tronic writ­ing. This is the case, for ex­am­ple, with Gün­ter Grass, who named his blue Let­tera 22 “Grand­fa­ther’s lover” in a poem ded­i­cated to the fa­mous Olivetti type­writer, while Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola and Cor­mac Mccarthy pre­fer the sub­se­quent Let­tera 32: the model used by Mccarthy was sold at auc­tion in 2009 for 254,500 dol­lars. There is un­con­di­tional love for that un­mis­tak­able click­ety-click that has in fact been re­pro­duced in an ipad app launched a short while ago by Tom Hanks.

In 1969, an­other myth was ready to add to the Olivetti story: the Valen­tine model, which, thanks to Et­tore Sottsass’ trans­gres­sive de­sign has also en­tered into MOMA’ per­ma­nent col­lec­tions. Its

The Olivetti name is a syn­onym of Ital­ian ge­nius, of that dis­ci­plined cre­ative mad­ness that gave life to the first per­sonal com­puter and to ob­jects that are not only easy to use but also beau­ti­ful to look at and touch: de­signer ob­jects that il­lus­trate a uniquely Ital­ian story.

dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter­is­tic is its vivid red color (in­deed known as “Valen­tine red”), and if the prod­uct’s qual­ity is by now agreed upon, its suc­cess was also as­sured by high-level pub­lic­ity cam­paigns with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of fa­mous graphic artists, pho­tog­ra­phers, poets and writ­ers. Once again Olivetti demon­strated far-reach­ing vi­sion, set­ting the bases for mod­ern brand­ing and en­trepreneur­ship by cre­at­ing cult prod­ucts, to the point where in 1988 they re­sumed pro­duc­tion on a lim­ited-se­ries ba­sis in Mex­ico aimed at col­lec­tors as well as ef­fec­tive users.

BE­YOND IMAG­I­NA­TION The dis­ap­pear­ance of Adri­ano Olivetti in 1960 and the heavy weight of in­vest­ments slowed down the tran­si­tion to elec­tron­ics, but de­spite this, Olivetti gave birth to the era of the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion al­most 15 years be­fore Steve Jobs and Bill Gates with Pro­gram 101. The term “per­sonal com­puter” had yet to be pro­nounced and the idea of keep­ing a com­puter on the desk­top was still a mi­rage, but a ge­nial group of engi­neers achieved a ver­i­ta­ble mir­a­cle, and P101 was of­fi­cially launched in the mar­ket on Oc­to­ber 14, 1965 in New York, with clam­orous suc­cess. The first clients in line were the sci­en­tists at NASA, who bought 45 mod­els in or­der to com­pile lu­nar maps and elab­o­rate the tra­jec­tory of the Apollo 11 mis­sion that would land a man on the moon in 1969, while the New York Jour­nal-amer­i­can wrote: “We might see a com­puter in ev­ery of­fice be­fore we see two cars in ev­ery garage. With Pro­gram 101, a man­ager can now have a sec­re­tary that cal­cu­lates the ex­penses of all the di­vi­sions of a com­pany with in­stant speed and on his desk.” NBC be­gan us­ing five Pro­gram 101s that Novem­ber to cal­cu­late the re­sults of the elec­tions they trans­mit­ted to mil­lions of tele­vi­sion view­ers in New York and New Jer­sey. The me­chan­i­cal age was over and the fu­ture be­longed to elec­tron­ics

Through­out its his­tory Olivetti has pro­fes­sion­ally in­volved writ­ers, ar­chi­tects and artists such as Gae Au­lenti, Le Cor­bus­ier and Carlo Scarpa

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