Mario Tchou

Parolini20150224111515MARIO TCHOU


MILANO: EGEA (February 2015)

[Versione italiana]

 The publication of the book was supported by the Italian association for computer science, AICA.

Table of contents Indice


The book is a scientific biography of Mario Tchou, a founding father of Italian computer science. It is also an account of the rise and fall of the R&D initiative in electronics that he directed during the 1950s and 1960s on behalf of the Italian company Olivetti, a brand famous worldwide for its mechanical calculators and typewriters. By considering the issues of industrial R&D the monograph contributes to investigate critical aspects of technology transfer in Italy. Mario Tchou (1924-1961) was the son of a Chinese diplomat in Italy and began to study engineering in Rome during WWII. In the aftermath of the conflict Tchou moved to the United States where he completed his scientific training and became assistant professor in electrical engineering at Columbia University, New York. At the mid of the 1950s Tchou returned to Italy to lead the Olivetti Electronic Research Laboratory, an initiative promoted by Adriano Olivetti, the visionary president of the Olivetti company, to develop the project of an Italian mainframe. Tchou and his co-workers designed and built from scratch a commercial mainframe called ELEA 9003 and several electronic devices for improving the quality of the mechanical calculators traditionally sold by Olivetti.

Despite the successful completion of the computer project, the initiative of R&D was structurally weak, because it did not have public support outside the company nor it was appreciated by the traditional managerial establishment of Olivetti. The untimely deaths of Adriano Olivetti (1960) and Mario Tchou (1961) marked the collapse of the Olivetti’s Laboratory and in 1964 the U.S. company General Electric took over the bulk of the Italian R&D experience in computer science. The account of Mario Tchou’s life and his work as leader of the Olivetti’s Laboratory is here enriched by oral histories collected with Mario Tchou’s relatives and with former staff members of his Laboratory and by interviews with the sociologists Franco Ferrarotti and Luciano Gallino who worked for Olivetti in the period examined.

You can read the first chapter of the book (author manuscript)  Mario Tchou_C1_WP.

You can buy the book here.

I presented a contribution on Mario Tchou and the Olivetti Electronic Research Laboratory during the World Computer Congress in 2008. The conference talk became a chapter in the Proceedings of the History of Computing and Education 3 (HCE3) [in English].



Andrea Granelli, La rivoluzione di Mario Tchou, 8th March 2015 [in Italian].




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