“Often the term utopia is the most convenient way to liquidate what you do not want, ability or courage to do. A dream seems like a dream until you start working on it, and then it can become something infinitely bigger.” Adriano Olivetti was a man who not only knew how to make his dreams come true, he did much more: he made them become reality. One of the most successful IEX stories is that of the Piedmontese entrepreneur who completely revolutionized the world of computing. The figure of Adriano Olivetti is still shrouded today by the halo of myth, the one that surrounds the most prominent figures in the Italian cultural and industrial panorama, the one reserved for the stories of excellence. Not only an entrepreneur, but also a man of culture, patron, politician and social reformist, a well-rounded personality that is not easy to tell, the man who saw the future and reached it, before everyone else.
The History of Olivetti: the Italian informatics family
One of the most successful companies, Olivetti, was founded in 1908 in Ivrea, Piedmont. Its primary purpose was to become the “first national typewriter factory”, a real must for the time. The intuition revealed to be ingenious is taken by Camillo Olivetti who, with an initial capital of only 350 thousand lire and a workshop of just twenty workers, sets up a dream in a space of only 500 square meters. The market rewards the ancestor of the Olivetti family and so, as early as 1911, the first Italian typewriter, the famous M1, was presented at the Universal Exposition in Turin. From here begins the ascent to the Olympus of Italian entrepreneurship, which culminated with the arrival of Adriano Olivetti, son of Camillo.
In 1926 the young Adriano entered the paternal factory and his personal history inevitably became the Olivetti story. It does not enter through the main door, but from the service door. The family imperative is categorical: every respected good “boss” must be a good worker first and that’s where Adriano begins, from the last step of the company hierarchy, taking place at the assembly line. When he arrives at the top of the pyramid he immediately begins to develop all his ideas and manages to control 30 per cent of the world typewriter market. Adriano sees us along, longer than anyone and understands that it is not enough to make good typewriters: we need an attractive design. Thus, in the Ivrea factory all the best Italian artists are called to collect, ready to contribute to the Olivetti typewriter project.
Yet the most beautiful part of Adriano Olivetti’s history does not concern his entrepreneurial skills, but his vision of work, solidarity and life. For him, the factory is the center of a community, and as such it must be filled with services for those who live there. In its factory, the houses for the workers, the social center, the libraries, the schools sprout. The Olivetti company becomes a legendary place, where the great Italian designers and architects work side by side with the workers. More than a company, a common good, a family. For Adriano, work is sacred and must be paid and protected: for this reason, when one of the first factories in the South opens, it decides to set up the workers ‘peasants’ houses and take them back home in the evening with a company bus in time to work in their own fields. Medical care and psychological assistance are just some of the services that Adriano Olivetti offers to its workers, treated first of all as people, in the total awareness that a happy worker makes more and more.
The success of Adriano Olivetti is explained by his ability not to lose a shred of his humanity, to carry forward his ideals, to be able to grasp the avant-garde in the present, but also and above all to never lose heart: during the II World War , for fear of being stolen the typewriters just packed, about 5000, he entrusted one or two to head to all his workers recommending them to hide them at home. His workers totally repaid his trust. The 5000 typewriters were all returned to the factory. Because Olivetti had discovered the main ingredient for a company’s success: mutual respect.
Olivetti products: the ideas that have changed the world
From typewriters to the first personal computer: from the entrepreneurial genius of Adriano Olivetti and from the design and construction skills of its workers, were born products that have revolutionized the world of writing and information technology, forever.
It all begins with the historic Olivetti M1 typewriter, presented in 1911, an object made according to the canons, large and heavy, intended for professional use in offices. In 1923 the first brilliant idea of the Ivrea company: a portable typewriter, the MP1, small and with a pleasant design with the mechanism partly hidden by the body. The revolutionary new machine is produced in seven different colours, in addition to the classic black (red, blue, light blue, brown, green, grey and ivory). The undisputed queen of the mass market of portable typewriters, however, is her, the very famous Olivetti Lettera 22, ready in 1950. A real revolution: the keyboard is incorporated in the body, as well as the roller. The dimensions are reduced to the minimum terms to make it transportable always inside its handy case with handle. Italian intellectuals are crazy about it, becoming the inseparable travel companion of distinguished writers and journalists, including Montanelli and Biagi. Even today, the Letter 22 can be admired in the permanent collections of the MoMA – Museum of Modern Art in New York, as the best product in terms of design of the last 100 years.
In 1963 it was the turn of the Olivetti Lettera 32, which adds functional innovations to the older sister. But in 1969 Olivetti launched another pearl, the Valentine typewriter, transgressive, bright red, which became a cult product. Then the electronics knock on the door of the Ivrea factory and the first electronic typewriters arrive, portable or not, designed by the greatest Italian designers of all time. Today, with the advent of the computer, the typewriter has become an almost mythological object, a romantic testimony of the past, a rarity for collectors, the last glimpse of poetry in an increasingly technological world.
At the beginning of the 1940s the first Olivetti calculator appeared, a simple tool that over the years will know a rapid and enormous evolution. One of the most successful models is the Logos 27-2, a super-automatic mechanical calculator from 1967, a true jewel of precision mechanics. Here too, the hand of the electronics creeps in: in 1968 the first electronic technology calculator is released. From the Logos 270 onwards the models will be more and more professional, compact, with an unconventional design, specialized in simple or scientific calculations. In the mid-eighties a new line of calculation machines came out, the Silent Dry, characterized by a “dry ink jet” printing technology, with a dry ink jet and a high level of silence.
A computer for everyone: this is the idea that Olivetti succeeds in putting into practice. In 1965 the first prototype of a laptop computer, an all-Italian primacy, the machine Program P101, a magnetic card computer, came onto the market. In the 70s a project group was born, the OATC (Olivetti Advanced Technology Center), located in Cupertino, in the Silicon Valley of California, and led by Enzo Torresi, for the creation of a new product able to compete with the American market: in March 1982 the first European personal computer was presented, the Olivetti M20, with PICOS operating system and a 16-bit Z8001 microprocessor.
But technology has already made great strides, that computer is already old and in 1984 it’s up to the Olivetti M24 to outperform the competition. From here begins the breakthrough in the field of Olivetti personal computers: the company of Ivrea produces and sells on the world market in 1986 almost half a million PCs, of which 220 thousand in Europe and almost as many in the USA, becoming the third world producer and the first European.
A visionary, an idealist, a dreamer. The number one in the field of computer entrepreneurship. And no, we’re not talking about Steve Jobs. When the father of Apple was not even a dot on the horizon, there was Adriano Olivetti to open the doors to the future of technology. The patron of Olivetti has believed us more than anyone else, first of all and working side by side with his workers he has been able to bring the name of Italy high in the world. His success in a single sentence, the profound meaning of his actions, the basis of his entrepreneurial vision, the founding values of his company-family: “I want that Olivetti was not just a factory, but a model, a style of life. I want to produce freedom and beauty because it will be them, freedom and beauty, to tell us how to be happy! “