Adriano Olivetti

By: Tor Aarestad
April 11, 2011

ADRIANO OLIVETTI (1901-60) was a Jew, an industrialist, an anti-fascist, and a utopian. Also a Catholic (briefly), an intellectual, an activist, and a member of parliament (also briefly). Olivetti was raised socialist by his father, Camillo, the founder of the Olivetti Company, educated at home by his mother, and taught that the work of the hand was equal to the work of the mind. In his twenties, Olivetti was sent to America to study the organizational structures of American factories. He returned to Italy and transformed his family’s traditional shop-style factory to a quasi-Taylorian enterprise with departments and decentralized systems of command; productivity skyrocketed, and Olivetti shared the gains with his workers. During the 1930s, the Olivetti Co. became a hotbed of anti-fascist organizing and activity, which continued into wartime, causing both Camillo and Adriano to go into hiding; Camillo died and Adriano fled the country to Switzerland. He spent his time there with other expat intellectuals, helping to develop his notions of social and organizational ecology, which coalesced in L’ordine politico delle comunità (The Political Order of Communities). This book served as the basis for the Community Movement, a political movement Olivetti founded in 1947, which argued for a federalist system in Italy, made up of relatively autonomous regions, themselves comprised of self-determining cities. Olivetti saw the factory as the central element of the city, and design — architecture, urban and regional planning, organizational structures — as the central practice of good social ecology. He served as mayor of Ivrea, his hometown; he was involved in housing, city and regional planning in Piedmont; and he was even elected as a member of parliament before dying of a heart attack. Alas, in America if this fascinating figure is known at all, it is only because the design-conscious Olivetti Company produced the finest and loveliest portable typewriters in the world.

MORE ACTIVISTS: Mother Jones | Alexander Berkman | Eugene V. Debs | Tina Modotti | Big Bill Haywood | Lucy Stone | Antônio Conselheiro | Emmeline Pankhurst | Félix Fénéon | Meridel Le Sueur | Pierre-Joseph Proudhon | Zo d’Axa | Mikhail Bakunin | Voltairine de Cleyre | Emma Goldman | Will Allen | Rosa Luxemburg | Simone de Beauvoir | Émile Henry | Pancho Villa | Joe Hill | Margaret Sanger | Aldo Leopold | Screaming Lord Sutch | Nestor Makhno | Dorothy Day | Garry Kasparov | Adriano Olivetti | Mildred Harnack | Frederick Douglass | Murray Bookchin | George Orwell | Bayard Rustin | Abbie Hoffman | Ti-Grace Atkinson | Gloria Steinem | Rudolf Rocker | Stokely Carmichael | Angela Davis


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Vincent Gallo.

READ MORE about members of the Hardboiled Generation (1894-1903).


Activism, HiLo Heroes, Utopia