Compact cassette tape inventor Lou Ottens has died aged 94

As reported by Dutch publication NRC Handelsblad, the inventor of the compact cassette tape, Lou Ottens has died aged 94.

Ottens began working at Philips in 1952 and became the head of product development for the company’s Hasselt division in 1960. Here, he started his journey to bring the reel-to-reel tape format into a more portable and user-friendly form factor.

The first success for Ottens and his team was the Philips EL 3585 – a ‘portable’ tape recorder that ran on batteries, but still used the reel-to-reel format. You can view this delightful piece of history at Johan’s Old Radios.

Frustrated by the bulkiness and clumsiness of the format, Ottens and his team worked to condense the technology, and two years later they unveiled the first compact cassette tape, complete with a plastic housing.

The cassette was debuted at the Berlin Radio Show in 1963, and was marketed as being ‘smaller than a pack of cigarettes’. Soon after, the term “compact cassette tape” was trademarked and Philips had developed a consumer-ready player to handle the new standard format.

A decade later, Ottens would also be involved in the Philips team that collaborated with Sony to develop the CD, yet another industry standard for storing great amounts of audio in an incredibly compact fashion.

When NRC Handelsblad had asked Ottens in 2018 what he thought about the renewed interest that cassette tapes were having in recent years, the pioneer thought it was silly, noting that CDs were unbeatable for audio quality.