Dutch inventor behind the cassette tape Lou Ottens dies

Aged 94, Lou Ottens, the dutch inventor behind the cassette tape, has passed away. Lou breathed his last at his home in Duizel, Netherlands.

Thus far no reason has been attributed to his death. An estimated 100 billion cassette tapes, associated with Lou’s invention have been sold globally by Philips, the Dutch electronics giant. Olga Coolen, the director at the Philips Museum in Eindhoven, described the inventor as an “extraordinary man” who loves technology. 

Born from humble roots in 1926, the young boy showed a key interest in engineering early in his life. He is credited for inventing the cassette tape which played a key role in the development of the first CD. Ottens graduated from the Delft University of Technology with a degree in mechanical engineering.  His work at Philips began in 1952.  

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Lou was an engineer by trade. Five years after joining the company, he headed the product development department based at the auto plant in Hasselt, Belgium. In 1960, Ottens and his teammates developed the first portable tape recorder. At that time all tape recorders ran on the reel-to-reel system which bound the tapes manually. Lou carried a wooden block cutting that fit into the side pocket of his jacket in what he envisioned was the perfect size for the new carrier. The block became the model in which the first portable cassette recorder was made. Unfortunately, for historical relic collectors, this first prototype vanished from history after he used it to prop up a jack when fixing a flat tire. 

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In 1963, the first cassette was unveiled at a production exhibition held in Berlin. Later on, the development of the cassette and playback was so successful that it was presented at the Internationale Funkausstellung (an international trade exhibition for audio parts based in Berlin). The cassette became a cheaper and portable alternative for regular people to record anything from music, lectures, radio, television, and their friends or relatives. This saw many people mimicking DJs, television hosts, artists, and authors while pretending to be critics. Unknown to Ottens, the music production process was democratized, evident on the back pages of music magazines where a catalogue of cassette-only album releases are listed.

Ottens was also directly involved in supervising the team that produced the compact disc, which turned out to be a successful innovation, selling over 200 billion copies worldwide. After Japan began reproducing similar versions of the cassette, Mr. Ottens was forced to strike a deal with Sony that required his invention to be patented. Shortly after, CDs were jointly launched in a partnership between Sony and Philips. 

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In a 2013 Times interview, Mr. Ottens described the cassette invention as a ‘sensation.’ This was the 50th anniversary of the tape's inception. Cassettes were a big hit globally, particularly among young people in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The device would assist in capturing iconic sounds according to Philips who recounted the story shared by Rolling Stones. This captured his level of foresight and innovation.