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Olivetti’s Typewriter: ‘The iMac of its day’


In their heyday, typewriters were big and bold devices, dominating the desk space like the bulkiest of PCs.

In the late 1960s, the Italian firm Olivetti unveiled the bright red Valentine typewriter, a portable machine which its creator Ettore Sottsass referred to as an “anti-machine machine”. The typewriter’s minimalist styling, light weight and attractive carrying case have made some design critics hail it as a precursor of the friendly tech Apple created such a stir with in the late 1990s.

London’s Design Museum‘s exhibition Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things includes an example of Sottsass’s playful design – and here, director Deyan Sudjic sings its praises. London’s Design Museum’s director Deyan Sudjic pays tribute to a 1960s machine which paved the way for beautiful, portable products.

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It was on April 29, 1911, that the first OLIVETTI typewriter was seen by the public for the fist time at the Turin World’s Fair. Olivetti put two typewriters on display in the fair’s Pavilion of the newspaper. Elsewhere at the fair, Camillo Olivetti exhibited machine tools with which he had made the typewriters. ” As an Industrial technician,” the OLIVETTI official history ( OLIVETTI 19081958) says, ” Camillo was perhaps producer of demonstrating the ingenuity and modernity of his methods than of showing the public his finished product. “

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Typewriter


A typewriter, which its makers say is the last to be built-in the UK, has been produced at a north Wales factory.A Remington typewriter from 1880

Manufacturer Brother, which says it has made 5.9 million typewriters since its factory in Wrexham opened in 1985, has donated the last machine to London’s Science Museum. The museum said the piece represented the end of a technology which had been “important to so many lives”.

Edward Bryan, a worker at the factory since 1989, made the last typewriter.

“If people ever ask me, I can always say now, as a strange question, that I’ve made the last typewriter in the UK,” he told BBC Breakfast’s Colin Paterson.

He said he had previously “tried and succeeded to make one with my eyes closed”.

‘Special place’

The Brother said it had stopped making typewriters in the UK because demand had fallen sharply in this country. It said that it still had significant sales in the US but its factory in the Far East produces enough typewriters to serve this market. The company will continue to use the factory to run a recycling scheme for printer cartridges as well as to make other office technology.

UK boss Phil Jones said the typewriter still held “a special place in the hearts” of members of the public.

“Because of this, and the typewriter’s importance in the history of business communication, we felt that giving it a home at the Science Museum would be a fitting tribute,” he said.

 Typewriters were first produced by the Remington company in the 1870s

The Science Museum’s assistant curator of technologies and engineering, Rachel Boon, said staff were excited to add the item ” to our rich collection of typewriters ” which numbers more than 200.

“This object represents the end of typewriter manufacture in the UK, a technology which has developed over the last 130 years and has been important to so many lives,” she said.

“This model will enable us to tell the story of how technology has evolved in accordance with our communication needs.”

The first known typewriter was invented in the US in 1830 by William Burt.

But typewriters did not become a commercial success until the 1870s when inventors Christopher Sholes – who also invented the Qwerty keyboard – and Carlos Glidden made a deal with the Remington company to mass produce their machines.

The typewriter is widely regarded as being instrumental in helping many women to enter paid work for the first time. Typing classes became popular in the late 19th Century, and by 1901 there were 166,000 female clerks in Britain – up from 2,000 half a century before.