Lou Ottens, the former Philips engineer who gave the world his first compact cassette, has passed away. According to the Dutch media NRC Handelsblad, Ottens was 94 when he died on March 6.
Ottens started working on the tape in the early 1960s. The path NPR tells the story, he wanted to develop a way for people to listen to music that was affordable and accessible, unlike large reel-to-reel tapes back then. So he first created a wooden prototype that could fit in his pocket to help guide the project. He also worked to convince Philips to give his invention free to other manufacturers. Philips introduced the first “compact cassette” in 1963, and the rest, as they say, is history. But that was not the end of Ottens’ career. He then helped Philips and Sony develop the compact disc.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of cassettes in musical culture. We wouldn’t have mixtapes and playlists without them. Plus, they made it possible for people to listen to their favorite songs and albums on the go. No advertising or entry from a radio DJ. It’s something that has come to define how people enjoy music ever since. And for all their flaws, in recent years cassettes have seen a resurgence in popularity. In 2016, sales of the format increased by 74 percent. Two years later, they increased by 23% with the help of the soundtracks of Strange things and Guardians of the Galaxy.