Cassette tape inventor Lou Ottens dies at 94
Lou Ottens, the inventor of the cassette tapes, which revolutionized domestic music in the 1960s, has died at the age of 94. He was also a key figure in the creation of CDs.
Today they are a relic of the past that many children and young people do not know what they are for, but almost 60 years ago cassette tapes were as great a revolution as today is Spotify, or streaming platforms.
In the middle of the 20th century you could only listen to music on the radio, TV or record players. It was a passive activity: you listened to what was broadcast, or the records you bought or loaned you, which at that time were expensive and only part of the music was released.
Magnetic tapes already existed in the 50s, but they were bulky, the players were huge and it was difficult to put them in the player, they broke easily. Lou Ottens, what by then he worked as chief engineer at Philips, developed a small, compact, inexpensive and very easy to use cassette tape. The first cassette player was introduced in 1963, although it was not released until 1965. Here we can see it:
It was quite a revolution. Cassette tapes were very easy to put in the player, they fit in your pocket, and if they did get tangled they could be easily fixed by cutting and pasting, or by sticking a BIC pen, or finger, through the holes in the tape.
Being smaller, they required less power than turntables or magnetic tapes, so could be used with a portable player, using batteries. Who does not remember the legendary Sony walkman?
But perhaps the most important revolution was the possibility of recording our own music or voice. The tapes allowed people to create their own mix songs, or keep recordings, voices, and sounds for your memory.
The cassette tapes became the physical format of commercial and home music for over 30 years, until in the 90’s they were replaced by the CD. Interestingly, another physical format in which Lou Ottens he was a key figure for its creation.
Lodewijk Frederik Ottens was born in the Netherlands in 1926. An engineer by profession, he worked on the development of a compact, resistant, easy to handle and cheap cassette tape at the Hasselt company, which belonged to the Dutch multinational Philips.
Lou Ottens and his team presented their invention at the IFA fair in Berlin in 1963, and it was commercialized in 1965. It did not arrive in the United States until 1969. In this video created by Philips to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the tapes, we can see an interview with Ottens:
Through their record companies The Mercury Record Company and Philips Records, they also began to commercialize music on cassette tapes, starting a business that has extended to this day, through CD discs. Even today you can buy cassette players on Amazon for less than 25 euros.
Lou Ottens passed away on March 6, at the age of 94. He worked his whole life for Philips. Rest in peace one of the most influential technological figures of the 20th century.