Lou Ottens, the Dutch engineer credited with inventing the iconic cassette tape, passed away last Friday. March 6, at the age of 94. Ottens was working with Dutch electronics company Philips when he came up with the idea for the audio cassette tape as a solution to his frustration with the manual winding of tapes.
Ottens, at a young age, had shown interest and promise in technology and engineering. During his teen years, he built a radio with a special antenna that could avoid Nazi jammers so he could listen to the special Dutch radio program, Radio Oranje. He appropriately named this invention “Germanenfilter.”
While working at Philips, Ottens and his teammates were able to develop the world’s first portable tape recorder. At the time though, the tapes for this device needed manual winding which, out of frustration, prompted Ottens to invent the now-iconic cassette tape. In an interview, Ottens was quoted saying, “The cassette tape was invented out of irritation about the existing tape recorder, it’s that simple.”
Cassette tapes became a part of the everyday life of many during its time and was able to give users a truly portable way to experience music at the time. The cassette tape also allowed average users to record their own songs and create their own mix-tapes.
Later on, Ottens supervised the team that would, later on, help develop the compact disc produced by Philips and Japanese electronics company Sony. Despite being developed at Philips, Sony was able to beat the company in producing its first compact disc or CD. Sony also beat them in creating a portable solution with the Walkman which has now already solidified itself a place in history.
Interestingly, despite not having been used in many many years, cassette tapes are finding a place in people’s hearts again. According to The Times of Israel, cassette album sales in the US have grown by 23-percent in 2018 — up from 178,000 copies from the previous year to 219,000.