|Founded||Ivrea, Italy 1908|
|Key people||Simone Battiferri Chairman
Cinzia Sternini CEO
Olivetti S.p.A. is an Italian manufacturer of typewriters, computers, tablets, smartphones, printers and other such business products as calculators and fax machines. Headquartered in Ivrea, province of Turin, the company has been part of the Telecom Italia Group since 2003. The primacy of the first PC can be assigned to Olivetti thanks to Programma 101, which was produced in 1964 and had a big success in the U.S. market.
The company was founded as a typewriter manufacturer by Camillo Olivetti in 1908 in Ivrea, Italy. The firm was mainly developed by his son Adriano Olivetti. Olivetti opened its first overseas manufacturing plant in 1930, and its Divisumma electric calculator was launched in 1948. Olivetti produced Italy's first electronic computer, the transistorised Elea 9003, in 1959, and purchased the Underwood Typewriter Company that year. In 1964 the company sold its electronics division to the American company General Electric. It continued to develop new computing products on its own; one of these was Programma 101, the first commercially-produced personal computer. In the 1970s and 1980s they were the biggest manufacturer for office machines in Europe and 2nd biggest PC vendor behind IBM in Europe.
Olivetti was famous for the attention it gave to design:
[A] preoccupation with design developed into a comprehensive corporate philosophy, which embraced everything from the shape of a space bar to the color scheme for an advertising poster.—Jonathan Martin, International Directory of Company Histories
In 1952, the Museum of Modern Art held an exhibit titled "Olivetti: Design in Industry"; today, many Olivetti products are still part of the museum's permanent collection. Another major show, mounted by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1969, toured five other cities. Olivetti was also renowned for the caliber of the architects it engaged to design its factories and offices, including Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, Gae Aulenti, Egon Eiermann, Figini-Pollini, Ignazio Gardella, BBPR, and many others.
From the 1940s to the 1960s, Olivetti industrial design was led by Marcello Nizzoli, responsible for the Lexicon 80 (1948) and the portable Lettera 22 (1950). Later, Mario Bellini and Ettore Sottsass directed design. Bellini designed the Programma 101 (1965), Divisumma 18 (1973) and Logos 68 (1973) calculators and the TCV-250 video display terminal (1966), among others. Sottsass designed the Tekne 3 typewriter (1958), Elea 9003 computer (1959), the Praxis 48 typewriter (1964), the Valentine portable typewriter (1969), and others. Michele De Lucchi designed the Art Jet 10 inkjet printer (1999) (winner of the Compasso d'Oro) and the Gioconda calculator (2001). During the 1970s Olivetti manufactured and sold two ranges of minicomputers. The 'A' series started with the typewriter-sized A4 through to the large A8, and the desk-sized DE500 and DE700 series. George Sowden worked for Olivetti from 1970 until 1990, and designed their first desktop computer, Olivetti L1, in 1978 (following ergonomic research lasting two years). In 1991, Sowden won the prestigious ADI Compasso d'Oro Award for the design of the Olivetti fax OFX420.
Olivetti paid attention to more than the importance of product design; graphic and architectural design were also considered pivotal to the company. Giovanni Pintori was hired by Adriano Olivetti in 1936 to work in the publicity department. Pintori was the creator of the Olivetti logo and many promotional posters used to advertise the company and its products. During his activity as Art Director from 1950, Olivetti's graphic design obtained several international awards, he designed impressive works that created the Olivetti image and were an emblematic Italian reference in the history of 20th-century design.
Those designers also created the Olivetti Synthesis office furniture series which mainly were used to be installed in Olivetti's own head- and worldwide branch offices and show rooms. Quite unknown is also that Olivetti produced some industrial production machinery like metal working machines of the Horizon series.
Olivetti begun with mechanical typewriters when the company was founded in 1909 and they produced them until the mid 1990s. Until the mid 1960s they were fully mechanical and there were some very famous designs like the portable Olivetti Valentine designed by Ettore Sottsass. With the Tekne/Editor series and Praxis 48 then some of the first electromechanical typewriters were introduced. The Editor series was also used for high speed typing world championship competitions for secretaries. The Editor 5 from 1969 was the top model of that series having proportional spacing and the ability to support justified text borders. In 1972 the electromechanical typeball machines of the Lexicon 90 to 94C series were introduced as competition to the IBM Selectric typewriters, the top model 94c supported proportional spacing and justified text borders like Editor 5 and additionally lift off correction. In 1978 Olivetti was one of the first manufacturers to introduce an electronic daiswheel printer based word processing machines called TES 401 and TES 501. Later the ET series typewriters without or with LCD and different levels of text editing capabilities were very popular in offices. The models of that line were ET 121, ET 201, ET 221, ET 225, ET 231, ET 351, ET 109, ET 110, ET 111, ET 112, ET 115, ET 116, ET 2000, ET 2100, ET 2200, ET 2250, ET 2300, Et 2400 and ET 2500. For homeusers in 1982 the Praxis 35, Praxis 40 and 45D were some of the first portable electronic typewriters, later Olivetti added the Praxis 20, ET Compact 50, ET Compact 60, ET Compact 70, ET Compact 65/66, the ET Personal series and Linea 101, the top model were 8 lines LCD based portables like Top 100 and Studio 801 with the possibility to save the text to 3,5 inch floppy disk. The professional line became an upgrade with the ETV series video typewriters based on CP/M operating system, ETV 240, ETV 250, ETV 300, ETV 350 and later MS-DOS operating system based ETV 260, ETV 500, ETV 2700, ETV 2900, ETV 4000s word processing systems having floppy drives or even harddisk. Some of them (ETV 300, 350, 500, 2900) were external boxes which could be connected through optional serial interface to many of the ET series office typewriters, the others were fully integrated having an external monitor which could be installed on a holder over the desk. Most of the ET/ETV/Praxis series electronic typewriters were designed by Marion Bellini. By 1994 Olivetti stopped the production of typewriters as for the most users the transmission from typewriter to Personal Computer was finished.
Between 1955 and 1964 Olivetti developed some of the first transistorized mainframe computer systems, such as the Elea 9003. Although 40 large commercial 9003 and over 100 smaller 6001 scientific machines were completed and leased to customers to 1964, low sales, loss of two key managers and financial instability caused Olivetti to withdraw from the field in 1964.
In 1965 Olivetti released the Programma 101, considered the first commercial desktop personal computer. It was saved from the sale of the computer division to GE thanks to an employee, Gastone Garziera, who spent successive nights changing the internal categorization of the product from "computer" to "calculator", so leaving the small team in Olivetti and creating some awkward situations in the office, since that space was now owned by GE.
Olivetti's first modern personal computer, the Olivetti M20, featuring a Zilog Z8000 CPU, was released in 1982. In 1983 Olivetti introduced the M24, a clone of the IBM PC using DOS and the Intel 8086 processor (at 8 MHz) instead of the Intel 8088 used by IBM (at 4.77 MHz). The M24 was sold in North America as the AT&T 6300. Olivetti also manufactured the AT&T 6300 Plus, which could run both DOS and Unix. The M24 in the US also was sold as Xerox 6060. Thew M28 was Olivettis first PC to have the Intel 80286 processor.
In 1985 the company acquired a controlling share in the British computer manufacturer Acorn Computers Ltd; a third partner was Thomson SA. Olivetti sold the Thomson MO6 and Acorn BBC Master Compact with brand names Olivetti Prodest PC128 and PC128s respectively. At the same time Olivetti also tried to compete with Schneider EuroPC with the MS-DOS based Podest PC1, but without luck.
In 1987 Olivetti introduced the LSX line of computers which was based on the Motorola 68k processor. They could run either MOS or Olivetti's Unix, X/OS. In 1989 Olivetti introduced the 80486 based next generation of LSX workstations with the LSX 5020 with EISA-Bus, it was shown in CeBit 1989 as "Computing Platform CP486".
In 1990, Olivetti had its own distribution network in New Zealand through Essentially Software Ltd. (owned by Gary McNabb) located at Mt. Eden in Auckland and Wellington, where an Olivetti M300-100 16 MHz PCs with 80386SX CPU were sold for NZ$7395 and used as graphical work station for design houses using Corel Draw as graphical program. The New Zealand distribution stopped in 1991 when Olivetti could not supply their PCs.
Olivetti also sold quasi-portable 8086/8088-based PCs with an integrated keyboard and one or two integrated 3.5" floppy disk drives, running DOS 3.27, an Olivetti OEM version of PC DOS 3.20 with minor improvements like the M21 portable (based on M24) and the M15. Also later Olivetti produced interesting laptops like M111, M211, S20, D33, Philos and Echos series. A very interesting sub notebook was the Olivetti Quaderno, about the same size as an A5 paper it was the grandfather of the Netbooks introded 20 years later.
End of computer production
Olivetti did attempt to recover its position by introducing the Envision in 1995, a full multimedia PC, to be used in the living room; this project was a failure. Packard Bell managed to successfully introduce a similar product in the U.S. but only some years later. The main problem of the company was its inability to conjugate innovation with the quality standards it had committed itself to, at a time when the margins on the PC market were diminishing as not only the market but also the number of PC clone producers grew. The company continued to develop personal computers until it sold its PC business in 1997.
End of Olivetti as a separate company
In the 1990s, Olivetti's computer businesses were in great difficulty, reportedly because of the competition from US vendors and new cheap manufacturers for PC components in Taiwan like ASUS, MSI, Gigabyte and so on from which local system builders profited much to offer cheaper PCs than Olivetti did with their own designs. It was on the brink of collapse and had needed government support to stay afloat. A company in transition, it had moved out of the typewriter business into personal computers before embracing telecoms between 1997 and 1999. In the process it had lost around three-quarters of its staff.
In 1999, The Luxembourg-based company Bell S.A. acquired a controlling stake in Olivetti, but sold it to a consortium including the Pirelli and Benetton groups two years later. Olivetti then launched a hostile bid for Telecom Italia in February 1999, despite being less than a seventh of the size of its target. In a take-over battle against Deutsche Telekom, and other potential bidders, Olivetti won out and controlled 52.12% of former monopoly Telecom Italia, Italy's #1 fixed-line and mobile phone operator. However, the ownership structure of the merged Olivetti / Telecom Italia was complex and multi-layered with Olivetti took on around $16 billion of extra debt. It was then referred to as the "Olivetti/Telecom Italia affair" because of the unpleasant secret affairs behind.
A 2003 reorganization turned the tables, however, and now Olivetti is the office equipment and systems services subsidiary of Telecom Italia. In 2003 Olivetti was absorbed into the Telecom Italia group, maintaining a separate identity as Olivetti Tecnost.
Rebirth and resumption of computer production
In 2005, Telecom Italia decided to re-launch the company in the information technology sector, investing €200 million; at first restoring the original Olivetti brand, then replacing it with Olivetti Tecnost in 2003. In 2007, Olivetti launched the "LINEA_OFFICE", designed by Jasper Morrison for Olivetti; a new line of PCs, notebooks, printers, fax machines and calculators. Olivetti today operates in Italy and Switzerland, and has sales associates in 83 countries. Research and development are located in Agliè, Arnad, Carsoli, and Scarmagno in Italy, and Yverdon, Switzerland.
In March 2011 Olivetti began producing the OliPad - its first ever tablet computer, featuring a ten-inch screen, 3G, WiFi, Bluetooth connectivity, Nvidia Tegra 2, Android 2.2.2, and a 1024 x 600 display. It also features an Application Store, with apps specifically designed by Olivetti for 'business & government'.
In 2013, Olivetti launched a smartphone series called Oliphone.
- Olivetti Oliphone M8140
- Olivetti Oliphone Q8145
- Olivetti Oliphone Q8150
- Olivetti Oliphone Q9047
- Olivetti Oliphone WG451
- Olivetti Oliphone WG501
- Woodham, Jonathan (1997). Twentieth Century Design. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 160. ISBN 0-19-284204-8.
- Nathan H. Shapira, Renzo Zorzi, Design Process: Olivetti 1908-1978, catalogue of a show at the Frederick S. Wight Art Gallery of UCLA, 1979.
- Walker, John. (1992) "Olivetti". Glossary of Art, Architecture & Design since 1945, 3rd. ed.
- "History & Culture Photo Archive". telecomitalia.it. Telecom Italia. Archived from the original on 2008-04-07. Retrieved 2008-04-22.
- Musina, Massimiliano. (2014) Giovanni Pintori. The Stark Tension Between Flair and Discretion. Bologna: Fausto Lupetti Editore.
- "Programma 101 Memory of the Future / Quando Olivetti Inventò il PC". History Channel. June 26, 2011.
- InfoWorld - Google Boeken. Books.google.com. 1986-12-01. Retrieved 2012-03-10.
- "Uncle Miod's machineroom". Retrieved 2012-12-02.
- Essentially Software article
- "Olivetti Envision". Ultimate Console Database. Retrieved 2012-03-10.
- "Olivetti launches OliPad tablet, second coming of the typewriter?". Retrieved 2011-03-06.
- "Telefoni e Smartphone".
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Olivetti.|
- Official website
- History of Olivetti at Telecom Italia (archived 2005)
- Picture of a 1983 office featuring an Olivetti M24
- "Olivetti Poster, a work of art". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 2007-11-19.
- "History of Olivetti" - SEQ Corporation, Stockholm, Sweden