Beyond profit, from utopia to reality: Olivetti's cultural heritage

“Often the term utopia it’s the easiest way to liquidate what you don’t want, capacity or courage to do. A dream feels like a dream until you start working on it. And then it can become something infinitely bigger ”. And in fact, after the Second World War, it could seem a utopia to create a factory that did not look only to profit, but that aimed at distributing wealth, culture, services, democracy. Values ​​that are more current than ever and that Adriano Olivetti, to whom we owe these words, he managed to put into action. The innovative and visionary entrepreneur, capable of bringing Olivetti to become one of the most important companies in the world in the field of typewriters, computing and electronics, from 1945 onwards it introduced a series of services and benefits for its workers that still appear to be at the forefront today. These include crèches and maternity and childhood support, training centers for the professional education of employees, sports groups, catering services and medical clinics to support collaborators in all aspects of their life, cultural and editorial initiatives . The historian focuses on this last aspect, still little known Cristina Accorneroauthor of the book published by Donzelli “The Olivetti company and culture”.

The manual focuses in particular on editorial events born on the initiative of Adriano Olivetti and his father Camillo (to whom we owe the foundation of the Olivetti company), collecting the first results of a research dedicated to the company magazines and periodicals produced by the Ivrea company from the early 1920s to the 1990s. . “For my book I used unpublished material preserved at the Olivetti Historical Archive Association”, he says Accornero. “It is a rich cultural heritage, made up of about 180 magazines (ranging from philosophy to architecture, from politics to publications dedicated to professional schools) that express the commitment of the founder Camillo and his successor Adriano to combine industrial production a precise cultural action “. Adriano himself was a man with multifaceted interests: he loved history, philosophy, literature, was attentive to the artistic avant-gardes and had a particular passion for urban planning. It was animated by avery particular idea of ​​cultureexplains Accornero, “understood as beauty And truthas a means capable of making the individual free, of creating equality and giving meaning to the life of employees and in particular of workers “.

Just the latter Adriano was well acquainted with hard work: after the degree in chemical engineering at the Polytechnic of Turin, in fact in 1925 he was sent for six months in the United States, where he visited American factories, and once back he began his professional experience as a worker in his father’s factory. He remembers that period thus: “A torture for the spirit, I was imprisoned for hours that never ended, in the black and the darkness of an old workshop”. Experience from which he will draw the conviction that “it is necessary to understand the black of a Monday in the life of a worker. Otherwise you can’t be a manager, you can’t manage if you don’t know what others are doing “.

Among the initiatives implemented in the cultural field, the first factory libraries where workers, technicians and managers could go to read magazines and newspapers or to borrow books. “The publishing activity also produced a series of periodicals and internal sheets that recounted the life of the company, like a modern house organ”, underlines Accornero. “Space was given to life episodes, such as marriages and births, or to stories of employees who retired or who had received the gold pin and were therefore remembered for their merits. This was accompanied by photography inserts, literature articles (among the writers there was for example Italo Calvino), sociology or the world of cinema. Theatrical activities, exhibitions, conferences were also organized in which writers, architects and artists took part. And all this makes us understand the importance that the company gave to culture and knowledge “.

With the disappearance of Adriano Olivetti in February 1960, he continues Accornero, “This editorial action continued like a red thread until the nineties with the second generation Olivettians who continue to produce internal corporate press and newspapers to be distributed also outside”. The experience of “Go”, a periodical dedicated to culture, economics and technology produced from 1973 to 1980 also aimed at readers outside the company that provides indications for the modernization of society, proposing a policy of innovation and rejuvenation of the country. Finally, the company was also animated by a sense of “unorganized” creativity. “This is an expression quoted by a witness I interviewed in my book,” he explains Accornero. “It expresses openness to new ideas within the company. If considered valid, they were in fact accepted and put into practice, regardless of the role and position held by the person who proposed them. The same witness had joined the company as a chemist and was then co-opted by the internal press office due to his potential as a journalist “. This wealth of initiatives, thought and approach towards workers and the company, concludes Accornero, can represent an important food for thought for modern companies. “Adriano Olivetti has in fact shown us that with courage and culture one can go far and that the secret of innovation lies precisely in having an open vision of reality”.

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