Yes, the Alpina, perhaps the finest typewriter I have ever used, lives on – at least in name. While production of this magnificent “small office machine” semi-portable stopped in 1963, Dr Otto Rudolf Bovensiepen’s Bavarian typewriter factory gave birth to one of the world’s great modern cars: the 2011 BMW Alpina B7 Sedan, the latest model Alpina auto built by Dr Rudolf's son Burkard Bovensiepen.
Otto Rudolf Bovensiepen was born in Mettmann, a Rhenish town in North Rhine-Westphalia, on November 11, 1907, the son of Rudolf Bovensiepen, a doctor in law and philosophy, and Elisabeth Emma von der Goltz Bovensiepen.Otto Rudolf Bovensiepen was born into a family which, in 1892, had taken control of the extant worldwide precision machine maker Peter Wolters, established in Mettmann in 1804 by Johann Peter Wolters (1777-1850).
Otto Rudolf’s great-grandfather Friedrich Bovensiepen, a master turner, married Wolters’ daughter Ida, and in 1881 their son Gustav Bovensiepen (1867-1951) joined the company. Gustav took over the organisation in 1892 and in 1927 established the Eisengießerei Hardenberg iron foundry in Neviges, which Otto Rudolf Bovensiepen in later life would manage.
In 1928 Gusta’s sons Hans-Friedrich and Peter Robert Bovensiepen joined the business and in 1934 they became partners with Gustav in running it. When Gustav died in 1951, Hans-Friedrich and Peter Robert took control.
Meanwhile, Otto Rudolf Bovensiepen had graduated as a doctor in law and had written books on Latin legal proverbs and divorce law reform. But machine manufacturing was in his blood and he became a partner in the small arms and ammunition manufacturing company of Kupfer und Messingwerke KG Becker & Co, Langenberg, Rheinland, specialising in brass and copper works.
As the Peter Wolters-Bovensiepen organisation rebuilt itself after World War II, Otto Rudolf found his true vocation.
In 1949, Otto Rudolf Bovensiepen established Alpina Buromaschinenwerke-Vertrieb Bovensiepen AG (below) in Kaufbeuren, a city in the Regierungsbezirk of Schwaben, southern Bavaria, enclosed in the district of Ostallgäu.
He started making typewriters in 1951 and the rounded semi-portables he produced between 1952-1961 have more than admirably stood the test of time. Today Alpinas are one of the most prized possessions of typewriter collectors worldwide.
When Bovensiepen’s son Burkard started to use Dr Rudolf’s typewriter factory to pursue his own interests, in building motor engines, Rudolf Bovensiepen in 1962 sold the rights to his typewriter, as well as the Alpina calculator, to Standard Electrik Lorenz (now Alcatel-Lucent Germany AG), a part of the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation.
The Alpina typewriter continued to be made in Kaufbeuren for two more years, then its remaining assets were sold to household appliances conglomerate Vorwerk in Wuppertal.
Eventually, in 1969, the rights fell into the hands of engineer Oskar Mildner, who in 1958 had hand-made the prototype of the miniature Alpina calculating machine (above and below). Mildner was only interested in the calculator-related assets of Alpina and sold the typewriter rights and the Kaufbeuren factory to Olympia Wilhelmshaven.
Burkard Bovensiepen moved the Alpina car company from Kaufbeuren to Buchloe the next year and Mildner restored the calculator machinery (which had sat idle for nine years) and produced a further 1600 machines to the 4000 calculators previously made.
The last Alpina calculator was made in 1971 and the company was dissolved the next year. The factory was sold to the city of Kaufbeuren in 1981 and then on to the former workers.
As for Otto Rudolf Bovensiepen, he remained in Kaufbeuren but moved on to making hydrometric precision measuring instruments, for which he became even more world renowned. In the early 1970s he was a partner with metal importers W. & O. Bergmann in Dusseldorf and a partner and manager of the Bovensiepen family iron foundry Eisengießerei Hardenberg in Neviges.
It’s a shame Mildner didn’t bother himself with the Alpina typewriter as well as the calculator, for any further production would no doubt be greatly appreciated by collectors today.
Nonetheless, Dr Rudolf Bovensiepen had definitely left his mark with his typewriter. Will Davis, on the Portable Typewriter Reference Site, gives these machines a glowing tribute. Will says that “In addition to being distinctively shaped [the Alpinas] are in fact magnificently constructed … Every possible point of design was made superlative in these machines, which were certainly expensive to manufacture.”
Alpinas were imported into the US as Avonas by Jordan Marsh Department Stores, a chain which received goods from the Associated Merchandising Corporation (AMC). Alpinas were marketed as both Avonas and AMCs.
Dr Rudolf Bovensiepen was still running his office equipment company when the Alpina began its transformation from four boots to four wheels.
The change from typewriter to car production started in 1961, when Bovensiepen’s son Burkard Bovensiepen (below, born September 1, 1936) used his father’s precision components factory to make a Weber dual carburetor for the new BMW 1500.
Buoyed by the success of his investments on the stock market, Burkard took over an outbuilding at the original Alpina typewriter factory to develop his BMW tuning business, working on the carburetors and revised cylinder heads. Three years later, in 1964, the then 28-year-old business and engineering graduate came to the attention of BMW sales boss, Paul G. Hahnemann. BMW awarded the Alpina system a full factory guarantee.
Alpina Burkard Bovensiepen KG was incorporated in Kaufbeuren in 1965 and a distinctive company logo was added two years later. In 1968 Alpina ventured into touring car racing, and among the world famous drivers on its roster were Derek Bell, James Hunt, Jacky Ickx and Niki Lauda. In 1970 Alpina’s team won the European Touring Car Championship and the prestigious Spa 24 Hours. It has now returned to racing.
Alpina Burkard Bovensiepen GmbH is now based in Buchloe, in the Ostallgäu district of Bavaria, where it moved in 1970. It is run by Burkard (above) and his sons, Andreas and Florian, and among other things also incorporates a wine business.
Alpina sells its own cars, based on BMWs. Its processes are integrated into BMW's production lines, thus Alpina has from the late 1970s been recognised as an automobile manufacturer. The Alpina B7 is produced at the assembly line in Dingolfing along with BMW's own 7-Series. The engine for this year’s model, a twin-turbo 4.4-liter BMW V8, is assembled by hand at Alpina's facility in Buchloe, shipped to BMW for installation, then sent back to Alpina for finishing touches.
Although they both graduated with doctorates in law, the typewriter-making Otto Rudolf Bovensiepen is not to be confused with the notorious Nazi war criminal Otto Bovensiepen (above), who was born in Duisburg on July 8, 1905 (died February 18, 1979, in Zusmarshausen). Towards the end of World War II, this SS colonel was head of security in Denmark and was sentenced to death by the Copenhagen district court in September 1948. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in March 1950. Bovensiepen was released in December 1953. He then worked as a manager of an insurance company in Mülheim an der Ruhr . He was tried again for war crimes in a Berlin regional court in December 1969, but after a heart attack was declared incapable of standing trial.
I have been fortunate enough to acquire two Alpinas. The first, serial number 63089 (made in 1956) came from New Zealand, where I bought it on TradeMe. After reading Will Davis’s tribute to the Alpina, I determined I had to have one, just to experience typing with it, if nothing else. I was delighted with the purchase.
But I then hankered after a later model Alpina, one with what Will described as “the milky-white solid nylon carriage return lever”. Patience paid off and one turned up on eBay Australia earlier this year.
It has the serial number 249121, but Will says “Official records end with serial number 242,000 at the end of 1960; with production about 40,000 units per year”, so I guess this must one of the last Alpinas ever made (although AMC Alpinas with serial numbers in the 300,000s are owned by Will and Richard Polt). Anyway, again, this one was in fantastic condition, but it really was the typing action which most impressed me. I don’t think I’ve ever typed on a better machine. So for that alone, thank you, Dr Otto Rudolf Bovensiepen …