Olivetti M 20 typewriter, 1926
Object of the month January 2020
The Italian company Olivetti first introduced the M 20, which was its second mechanical type-bar typewriter, at the Brussels Exhibition one hundred years ago in April 1920. This model enjoyed great success: around 90,000 units were produced before 1933. Having become familiar with machines from the US manufacturer Underwood during his studies at Stanford University, Camillo Olivetti used their technology as the basis for the first Olivetti typewriters.
Many Olivetti products and campaigns are considered milestones in industrial product and graphic design, especially since his first portable typewriter, the MP 1 Ico, in 1932. Indeed, the New York Museum of Modern Art dedicated a separate exhibition to Olivetti’s contribution to industrial design in 1952. The earlier M 20 model was more reservedly assessed in the catalogue as “[a] factory product without the benefit of a designer’s touch”. But as early as 1920, the abandonment of high-gloss lacquer and decorative mouldings made the typewriter look extremely modern. The reduced design became a trademark of the company in the following decades.
Founded in 1896, one of the Olivetti company’s main production lines for decades was the development and production of mechanical, electric, and finally electronic typewriters. After taking over the typewriter manufacturer Underwood in 1959 and the office machine and computer manufacturer Triumph Adler in 1986, Olivetti eventually stopped producing typewriters altogether in 1994. The first Olivetti personal computer had already been introduced in the early 1980s. It, too, bore the name M 20.
The Deutsches Technikmuseum received the M 20 in September 2019 as a donation. It is one from 36 typewriters in our Olivetti collection.