The History Of Olympia Typewriters

Often referred to as the Mercedes Benz of typewriters, the Olympia typewriter has historically been proven to be a popular choice with authors, Hollywood filmmakers, and now, with many working models still available, antique collectors and vintage typewriter enthusiasts.

Despite the fact that the typewriter industry was seen to be dominated by the American giants such as Remington and Smith-Corona, this West German brand had long been famous for its portability, comfort, reliability and colourful designs.

The Olympia brand began life in Berlin in 1903 when European General Electric (AEG) sought to develop a German-made typewriter to capitalise on the demand for typewriters. The first model, the Mignon mechanical typewriter, failed to make a dent in the market, mainly due to its high price being too expensive for many customers at the time. AEG, however, continued to improve and develop upon the original design and the result was the 1912 launch of the Mignon “AA” line. Despite these improvements, the first real commercial success for the brand did not come until 1921 with the release of the popular Model 3. Following this success, the company set up its factory in Erfurt, Germany.

By 1933, the company had changed its name to Olympia in honour of the last Mignon model, the Olympia Plurotyp. During this changeover period, the Model 7 and Model 8 typewriters were marketed under both the Olympia and AEG names. Towards the end of the 1930’s the brand continued to gain popularity as cheaper models such as the Model 8a and 8b were released. The company also broke new ground with the release of a one-handed version of the Model 8 typewriter for disabled users. Olympia, however, was soon to find itself tested as World War Two broke out in Europe.

Although the Olympia factory survived the capture of Berlin by Allied forces, following the Soviet takeover when the new East German government took control and renamed the company Optima, a number of employees fled to West Germany and in 1948 re-established the company in Wilhelmshaven. A location where they continued to produce typewriters until production ended in 1992.

The Popularity of Olympia Typewriters

As a brand known for their constant innovation and high standard of craftsmanship, it is estimated that by 1961 approximately half of the typewriters in use in Germany were Olympia’s. Models that enjoyed particularly enduring popularity include the SM2, SM3 and SF Portable all of which, along with the Progress, Elite and Simplex models were in production from the 1950’s to the 1970’s.

Moving with the times, Olympia also offered features such as spring-loaded keys and even turned the highly popular SM5 model into a fashion accessory by providing it in the popular ‘mod-colours’ of the 1960’s such as pink, aquamarine and caramel.

In the 1970’s Olympia continued to innovate with electric typewriters such as the SGE 50M Excellence, before eventually branching out into calculators and computers as the demand for typewriters fell throughout the 1980’s. Sadly as the years went on the Olympia brand began to fade and the company folded in 1992. It is a testament to the quality and craftsmanship of the brand that vintage Olympia typewriters are still available, often in excellent working condition.

Famous Olympia Fans

Danielle Steel uses a 1946 Olympia typewriter which she has named ‘Ollie’. In a 2011 blog post she claimed that it was the best investment she had ever made and Novelist Paul Auster even produced an art book entitled The Story of My Typewriter as a tribute to his SM9 Olympia. In the movies, the classic design of the Olympia SG3 typewriter can be seen in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Marnie.

An Enduring Appeal

In recent times the vintage typewriter has seen a resurgence in popularity for a number of reasons from those who love the aesthetic appeal of a mechanical typewriter used as a curio or ornamental talking point, to those who enjoy the feel and sound of pounding away on a real keyboard while composing their next masterpiece.