07 Nov 2013


Elisabetta Mori
Olivetti and the early computers of Italy
A story told through pictures

Olivetti ELEA 9003, photo: Andries Van Onck Archiv

In the early Fifties, Olivetti was one of the best known and most highly appreciated Italian companies in the world. It was able to combine technological innovation and social-ethical issues, with important experiments in design, communication and architecture. The company produced mechanical technology typewriters and calculators: Adriano Olivetti realized that he would also have to produce electronic calculators, or computers, to stay competitive on the market and keep up with new scientific developments.

Olivetti ELEA 9003 was the first computer to be produced in Italy. It was first manufactured in 1959, and designed by Ettore Sottsass Jr. Of the approximately forty samples made, only one remains intact today, the second in the series, the ELEA 9003/02 MPS. Thanks to a series of fortunate events, it was preserved in a high school in Bibbiena (AR ) and is still partially working.

Telling the story of the ELEA computer series means telling the story of a piece of Italian culture that goes from the mid-Fifties to the mid-Sixties. In fact, interest in these early Olivetti computers is not limited to information technology, design or business communication. The advent of computers in Italy was echoed by art, music and literature, and directly involved the Ivrea company in promoting culture in these same disciplines.

The talk at Villa Romana will be accompanied by a selection of original and archive pictures, some rare or unpublished.

Elisabetta Mori (born in Livorno, 1978) studied architecture at the Technische Universiteit in Eindhoven and the University of Florence, where she graduated with honours. She has collaborated on art and architecture publications and has been part of the editorial team of ARCH'IT – a digital architecture magazine. Since 2003, she also embarked on a career as an artist, working and exhibiting in Italy and abroad, and participating in artists’ collectives (Liquid Cat, Postcards from Beirut).