Conspiracy theories never die.

We are happy to publish Silvio Hénin’s comment about the article published by Walter Veltroni in the Corriere della Sera on 12 January and dedicated to Mario Tchou, brilliant director of Olivetti’s Electronic Research Laboratory who died prematurely in 1961.

I read article by Walter Veltroni on Mario Tchou and the Olivetti affair (Corriere della Sera, January 12, 2020). An excellent work, full of unpublished news, alive and useful to an audience that often tends to ignore history, even the recent one. Unfortunately, once again there is room for absurd conspiracy theories, the same ones that were already proposed, seven years ago, in the docufilm about Adriano Olivetti produced by RAI. In that case it was suggested that Adriano Olivetti was killed by CIA, this time it is suggested that the death of Mario Tchou, the main architect of Olivetti’s enterprise, was not accidental either.

I cannot but reiterate that the commercial failure of the Olivetti adventure in the field of large electronic computers, which led to the sale of its Electronics Division to General Electric, was not due to alleged murderous plots hatched by the CIA or IBM and there is no evidence that the large American multinational was particularly concerned about Olivetti’s results, however innovative they were. The event was, much more simply, provoked by multiple economic and political causes, all Italian. To mention the most important ones, the lack of a large and receptive national or European market, the impossibility to enter the US market powerfully, the backwardness of Italian industry and the lack of cultural sensitivity to new technologies, the lack of financial assistance from the State and banks. Let us not forget, finally, that many Italian companies, and many public bodies too, chose to buy IBM rather than European or national brands.

It seems also worth remembering that the same happened in all the other European countries. In the United Kingdom there were, in the 1950s, as many as nine computer companies, which disappeared in a couple of decades or were bought by the Japanese. This was also the case in France and Germany. Many national and European plans to develop a local IT industry were also flaws. In the United States, on the other hand, there was a very receptive market and a generous government support. However, it was not a sprinkler and non-repayable financing, as in Europe, but a large purchase of computers for military use, which largely covered the research and development expenses incurred by the supplier companies, allowing them to enter the civilian market with greater security. Finally, in the United States too, many of the first computer companies were destined to oblivion in the face of IBM’s advance, in fact, there was talk of ‘IBM and the Seven Dwarfs’, to indicate its small American competitors (Digital Equipment, Control Data, General Electric, RCA, Univac, Burroughs, and Honeywell), afterward reduced to five (‘IBM and the BUNCHì, from the initials of the remaining companies: Burroughs, Univac, NCR, CDC and Honeywell). These marks too disappeared in the 1980s and 90s.

Silvio Hénin