testo di prova

Giovanni De Sandre

A “space” mind.

Engineer from Sacile, he has been one of the fathers of the P101, the world’s first programmable desktop computer, which was also used in the mission Apollo 11.

Precursor of personal computers, Giovanni De Sandre (year of birth 1935) was born in Sacile and has completed his first studies in his city, before moving to Milan in 1954 to get his degree in electrical engineering (today’s electronic engineering) at the Polytechnic (December 1959).

It was a flourishing period for those who had a scientific degree and the young De Sandre, fresh from his studies, was not without job offers. In 1960 he joined Olivetti, where he found a free, comfortable and stimulating environment; these conditions allowed him to devote himself, after several increasingly demanding and difficult jobs, to a completely new project: the Olivetti P101.

At the beginning, this ambitious project was evaluated on a theoretical level. The goal set by De Sandre – one of the pillars of the team led by engineer Pier Giorgio Perotto – was to conceive a machine capable of satisfying some essential requirements: it had to be economical, small in sizes and easy to use, but above all it had to allow the user to carry out something more than the four operations that could already be carried out with mechanical machines. Of course, the program had to be enclosed in a memory capable of storing a large amount of data. A dream for any engineer like him who would have loved to automate the work, when he was studying at the Polytechnic!

The engineers really believed in this project, so much so that they did not lose heart being confronted with the particular situation that Olivetti was experiencing: it had just “handed over the keys” of the electronics division to another company, General Electric, which was not at all interested in Italian computers. No sooner said than done: with a stratagem carried out during the night, the engineers changed the classification of the machine from “computer” to “calculator”, making it less attractive and thus allowing the work to continue.

Inaugurated in 1962, the final demonstrative prototype could be considered completed in 1964, thus allowing a dream to come true: “the first desktop computer in the world”

The world’s first desktop computer, which had no screens but a paper roll printer as the only display tool, was presented at BEMA (Business Equipment Manufacturers Association) of New York in October 1965. Instead of huge and bulky magnetic tape storage units, the P101 – nicknamed “Perottina” – featured small-size, easy-to-use programmable magnetic cards. The attendance was overwhelming, the Olivetti stand was the most crowded, the people amazed and enthusiastic so much so that in an article of the New York Journal American it was written: “there will be a computer in every office before two cars in every garage”. NASA immediately purchased ten models to be used for the Apollo 11 program. It was a chain reaction: the new philosophy of individual computing was born, and within five years more than 40,000 units were sold. 

The P101, a compromise between a desktop calculating machine and a personal computer, is now on display at MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art.

Giovanni De Sandre received the seal of the city of Sacile in 2014 and, despite all the sacrifices, he does not deny that he would do it all over again. 


His statements: 

“The important thing is to understand what, among the many innovations, is really useful to improve our lives”


“I believe that the fact of working on P101 was not immediately something innovative. For me, at the beginning it was above all a strong need”


“Innovation means the desire to go to the unexplored desert, hoping to find an oasis, a solution that we did not find ready, but that we have realized”

“For the Apollo 11 we had a desktop computer (…) which was called Olivetti Programma 101. It was a kind of supercomputer. He could do additions, subtractions, multiplications and subtractions, but he could also remember a sequence of these things and he could record it on a magnetic card (…). Thus, you were able to write a sequence, a program sequence, and get it executed.” David W. Whittle, Johnson Space Center, NASA