For much of its history the Olivetti company has embraced the highest aesthetic standards throughout its corporate activities: architecture, interiors, advertising, graphics, corporate identity, as well as its manufactured products—office and computing equipment and office furniture. It has also played a prominent part in the sponsorship of major exhibitions, has been the subject of an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and developed an enlightened corporate social welfare policy. In 1974 the success of the company's corporate identity policy was recognized by the American Institute of Architects. It awarded Olivetti its Industrial Arts Medal ‘for a history of excellence in communicating its image through product design, corporate communications, architecturally distinguished manufacturing and merchandising facilities, and sponsorship of numerous social, educational, recreational, and cultural programmes for both its employees and the public at large’.
The company was founded by Camillo Olivetti in Ivrea in northern Italy in 1908, commencing production with his MI typewriter in 1910. However, it was not until the 1920s that the company began to modernize its business and production methods, following an extended visit to the United States in 1925 by Camillo's son, Adriano. The latter was to play a key role in developing a coherent corporate identity policy, commencing with the establishment of an advertising office in 1928. Following Adriano's appointment as general manager in 1933, a number of leading architects and designers were brought in to develop the Modernist aesthetic that was to pervade all of the company's activities. These ranged from advertising and publicity to the design of office equipment, factory buildings, and housing for its employees. Amongst this first wave of notable designers employed to project the progressive face of Olivetti was the Swiss‐born Bauhaus graduate Alexander (‘Xanti’) Schawinsky, who was involved with graphic and product design for Olivetti from 1933 to 1936. He was joined by Marcello Nizzoli, a graphic and exhibition designer, who became the company's chief design consultant in 1936, the same year in which the artist and graphic designer Giovanni Pintori joined the company. Both Nizzoli and Pintori worked on architectural, product, and publicity design, the latter field also being one in which the graphic design company Studio Boggeri played a significant shaping role. The Rationalist architects Luigi Figini and Gino Pollini underlined the progressive image of the company in their design of Olivetti housing and factory buildings in 1939. Products from this period included the Studio 42 typewriter of 1935 by Schawinsky, Figini, and Pollini and the MC 4S Summa calculator of 1940 by Marcello Nizzoli. In the post‐Second World War era the company boosted its overseas markets by opening in the United States in 1946, commencing with a sales outlet in New York and further consolidated with the establishment of the Olivetti Corporation of America, also in New York, in 1950. In 1959 Olivetti also acquired a 30 per cent interest in the Underwood Company in the USA, collaborating in research, development, and production of office equipment. Olivetti's commitment to high‐quality design continued to evolve alongside an enlightened social welfare policies for its employees. The rounded, sculptural appearance of Nizzoli's Lexicon 80 typewriter of 1948 was very much in tune with a widespread contemporary interest in organic form that could be found in other noted Italian designs such as Pininfarina's Cisitalia Berlinetta of 1946 or Gio Ponti's La Pavoni coffee machine of 1949. Similar tendencies could also be seen in the work of Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen in the United States, illustrated in Domus. Nizzoli's lightweight Lettera 22 typewriter of 1950 attracted considerable attention and was included in the 1952 Olivetti Exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Taking over from Nizzoli, Ettore Sottsass was appointed as Olivetti's chief design consultant in 1958 and attracted attention for the clearly articulated design of the Elea 9003, the company's first mainframe computer. A number of typewriters followed including the Praxis 48 typewriter of 1964 (with Hans von Klier) and the bright red Valentine portable of 1969 (with Perry King, see King‐Miranda Associati). Mario Bellini, another leading figure in Italian design, executed many designs for Olivetti from the 1960s to the 1980s, including the striking orange Divisumma 18 calculator of 1972 with soft keyboard and the Praxis 35 typewriter of 1980. Radical designer Michele de Lucchi, who had been appointed as a design consultant to Olivetti in 1979, became head of the design department in 1992, concentrating on the design of electronic products and computers such as the Filos 33 notebook of 1993 and the Echos 20 laptop of 1995. Olivetti was also noted for its office furniture design, prominent examples of which included the Arcos office furniture system designed by BBPR in 1960, the innovative Synthesis 45 system of the 1970s by Ettore Sottsass and the Ephesos system of 1992 by Antonio Citterio. As well as through the commissioning of buildings by notable architects, Olivetti pursued its commitment to a coherent, design‐rich ethos by commissioning leading companies and designers to fashion its interiors. For example, the BBPR design studio designed the company's offices in New York in 1954, Carlo Scarpa the Olivetti showroom in Venice in 1957, and Gae Aulenti the Paris offices in the following decade. From 1969 onwards Olivetti's corporate identity was developed further by the Czech graphic and product designer Hans von Klier, working with Perry King and C. Castelli. During the 1970s, like many other manufacturers, Olivetti experienced financial difficulties but, under the new management of Carlo De Benedetti in 1978, recovered in the following decade with research collaborations with the American company AT&T commencing in 1983. In 1998 the Archivio Storico Olivetti (Olivetti Historical Archive) was opened in Ivrea, providing ample evidence of its corporate commitment to high standards of design, cultural projection, social welfare, and education for much of the 20th century.
Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.