Salta al contenuto principale Skip to footer content

The Bolognese industrial model: from agricultural tradition to mechanical industry

1796 | 1953


1. An agricultural and artisanal base | In the morrow of the Congress of Vienna, which closed the Napoleonic season and sanctioned a return to restored order, Bologna's economic situation was in a state of transition. Bologna's industry had experienced a rapid and flourishing economic development between the 12th and 15th centuries, with the city as the centre of trade, industrial production and cultural life, and the countryside as the main producer of raw materials and subsistence goods. The two main crops, the basis of an art and of a related industrial production, were silk and hemp. The silk industry, which flourished between the 15th and 17th centuries, began its decline at the end of the 18th century, mainly as a result of the period of instability caused by the French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic wars, which led to a decline in exports. To this was added the growing foreign competition: in various countries, first and foremost France and Switzerland, less expensive veil production than that of Bologna had developed. "In Bologna," says Luigi Dal Pane, "the first forms of capitalist industry had been established since the Middle Ages, especially in the silk branch, with the development of the domestic industry and the gathering of a certain number of workers in the so-called “filatogli”. Before that, the great upheavals which had broken the feudal bonds had taken place in the Bolognese countryside". In the transition to the typical form of the large capitalist factory, adds Dal Pane, of great importance was the presence of a market "capable of determining, with [its] increased demand, a decisive push towards inventions in the technical field and transformations in the forms of production". In the first half of the 19th century, Bologna's economic framework presented a strong fragmentation of productive activity and a market limited to the local area. In the Napoleonic period and during the Restauration, one third of the citizens of Bologna was employed in the service sector (servants, porters, stablemen, housekeepers, etc.) and worked in the service of a small number of landowners (nobles and clergymen). The remaining part of the population was divided between workers, craftsmen, entrepreneurs, professionals, clerks and merchants. The needy and beggars were also numerous. The Almanac of the Department of the Reno of 1808 lists the main factories and trading houses in the Department, providing a general picture of Bologna's economic structure. The main activities were: "Silversmiths, Bankers, Hats, Paper, Printing works, Type foundry, Bookshops, Wax, Chocolate, Corami (a type of leather) and leather goods, “Gargioli” (a type of hemp), cloth, cordage, Oil and soap, Brassware, Pannine (a type of cloth), Lead, Liqueurs and spirits, Silks, bibs and veils, Waxed cloth, Earthenware, Glass". With the exception of textile manufactures, the other industries retained a limitedly local character. In the countryside, silkworm breeding prevailed, controlled by the landowners. In the city, on the other hand, the work cycle was concentrated which, if for most of its phases took place in specially equipped buildings where workers and labourers flocked, for weaving, on the contrary, took on a distribution of a domestic character, both urban and rural. By the first decade of the 19th century, the guilds were abolished in the Papal States, the memory of which remained only in a few towns place names. For the following years, the framework of professional activities can be obtained by analysing the registers of the Chamber of Commerce, which show a predominance of activities aimed at daily needs: bakers, lard-sellers, merchants and butchers, while in the textile branch there was a prevalence of "gargiolari", employed in the processing of hemp. Significant capitals were then employed in the processing and trade of hides and skins, in the iron and soap trade and also in the cloth trade. However, the most striking element seemed to be the stillness: there was an almost complete lack of reports about the opening of new industries, a sign of the continuing crisis in the sector. For the entire season that led from the French years to the birth of the Kingdom of Italy, the economy of Bologna therefore remained characterised by the dominance of handicrafts and small and medium-sized industry, mainly linked to the production of basic goods and the main products of the countryside (silk, hemp and rice), but which was in fact static due also to a lack of invested capital. Despite the decline of what had been Bologna's main industries up to the end of the 18th century, and the predominantly agricultural character that the city and its territory maintained at least for the entire first half of the 19th century, it was in this century that the foundations were laid for an economic development - and in particular an industrial one - that remained almost unchanged at least until the outbreak of the First World War. The long 19th century was characterised by elements of preservation, which were progressively joined by hints of modernity, brought about by the Napoleonic reforms (sale of ecclesiastical property, Napoleonic codes) that contributed to the formation of a new bourgeois social class which, while at least initially retaining the characteristic traits of the aristocracy (in particular wealth linked to land property), began to introduce elements of progress in the economic sphere and the formation of elites. It was in particular the sale of ecclesiastical properties that contributed to the renewal of the landowning class: the nobility began to lose social and economic power to the point of merging with the "bourgeoisie", which more than any other class gained from the sale of the property of the religious, and even if these sales did not lead to a "land revolution", there was still a partial redistribution of property. In Bologna's area, for example, bourgeois property increased from 24-26% to 40-42%; but it was not the small estates that increased. It was instead "the nucleus of large bourgeois properties, destined to expand". It was 1841 when Dr. Carlo Frulli dedicated a short booklet to Marquis Gaetano Pizzardi entitled "Sull'avvenire dell'industria" (On the future of industry), in which he interpreted some recent innovations in the economic sphere as fundamental for the future of the city of Bologna, innovations that derived from a "new order of things, which must arise from the reopening of the great communications of Europe with the East by the Persian and Arabian routes". But what were those "early dawns of the economic period into which Europe is about to enter" that Frulli saw and perceived in the city of Bologna? Firstly, it was unanimously recognised that the market needed to be enlarged, and this would not have been possible without a new, modern communications network. It was in fact during these years that the "railway issue" opened up in Italy, modelled on what had already begun in Europe. The expansion of the railway network was according to Savoy Piedmont, and in particular Count Cavour, one of the cornerstones of the progressive liberal policy and the preferred route to the industrial revolution. Similar initiatives were taken in Lombardy-Veneto and the other Italian states, following a logic that united the construction of the railways with the idea of political unification and national independence. It was Cavour himself who expressed in the pages of "Il Risorgimento", in 1847, his conviction that there was a connection between political renaissance and economic renewal, between liberalism and liberism. In the Papal State, the initiative for the expansion of the railway network was entrusted to a group of private citizens who promoted the project of setting up a "Company" for the purpose of building a railroad, "a line that would run from Padua down to the left bank of the Po", which would certainly have also favoured trade and commerce in the entire Papal States and in particular for the city of Bologna "which, due to the roads that had been open for several years, not existing before, inevitably fell from that prosperity that in other times made it more prosperous" and which would instead have become "the centre of this line of precious communication between the Adriatic and the Mediterranean". All these initiatives then necessarily had to be supported by a solid financial system and a modern credit system. In Bologna, it was during the 1840s and 1850s that the foundations of a modern banking system were laid, culminating in the creation of the Cassa di Risparmio and the Papal Bank for the four Legations. The Cassa di Risparmio di Bologna began its operation in 1837 and represented a first attempt to infuse a new energy into the economic and financial system of the area. A joint-stock company with a capital of 5,000 scudi was then set up, and reciprocity agreements for current account deposits were established with the Cassa di Risparmio di Roma and some private banks. The experiment succeeded and in the following years there was a continuous increase in deposits and investments. The bank, which accepted money deposits and granted loans with certain guarantees, emerged unscathed from the revolutionary period of 1848 and its success also helped animate the debate about the need to broaden the basis of city credit so as to allow for greater circulation of capital. This was also due to the foundation in April 1850 of a modern discount bank, which took the name Banca dello Stato Pontificio. This project originated within the group of moderate Bolognese liberals, mostly landowners, who wanted on the one hand to obtain greater autonomy from the Roman government in the economic sphere and on the other hand to create an institution that would guarantee a wider possibility of financing for their activities and for possible agricultural and industrial investment projects. In reality, from its very beginnings, the bank showed its founding weakness, namely that of having arisen out of the desire of a group of men mainly linked to agriculture. In fact, loans and investments were mainly aimed at financing the activities of that small group of Bolognese nobles and notables - eight of the bank's ten founders were large landowners - who promoted the creation of the Bolognese institution. These loans corresponded to approximately "40% of the total amount of current accounts, and at least 80% were destined for the improvement and development of hemp and rice cultivation” and were mainly granted to large landowners. A weakness that decreed the end of the Bolognese experiment in 1861 and the merger with the Banca Nazionale Sarda.

2. At the origins of the mechanical industry | The positive effect that the presence of these new credit institutions had on the initial economic development of the city of Bologna is nevertheless still evident, which made the observers present at the 1857 Industrial Exposition point out that it was: "beyond doubt that without the help of new and appropriate devices and of collected capital none of our industries would have shown any sign of coming out of the humble and obscure state into which they had fallen". As far as the industrial sector was concerned, while the credits granted to Bolognese companies had the merit of innovating industrial production, they failed to have a profound effect on the economic fabric of the city and the province and to initiate the transition from a predominantly agricultural society to a modern, industrial one. Exemplary in this regard was the foundation in 1851, on the initiative of the same group of city notables who were involved in the Società Agraria and in the banking system, of a hemp-processing factory in Casalecchio di Reno, in the area called Canonica, which was managed by the Società anonima per la filatura della canapa (Limited Company for hemp spinning). The factory, equipped with modern machinery - mostly of English manufacture - was one of the first in Italy in terms of size and financial availability. The creation of the "Canonica" (as the hemp mill was known to all) was part of a new vision and economic action in the Bolognese area: that of joint-stock companies, conceived in a spirit of associationism that overcame individualistic visions and was to lead to further economic and social development. One example was the Società Mineralogica Bolognese (Bolognese Mineralogical Society), which had obtained a perpetual privilege from the government to be able to carry out excavations in the territory of the Legation and start up "a branch of industry in that place that was still unknown, but that had brought so many advantages to the economy and finance of the neighbouring Grand Duchy of Tuscany". Together with that of the Società delle miniere solfuree di Romagna (Romagna's sulphurous mines Society), established in Bologna on 21 February 1844 with the aim of increasing the processing, refining and trade of sulphur. Another joint-stock company, the Società Anonima Officine Meccaniche e Fonderia di Bologna (Bologna's Mechanical Workshops and Fundry Limited Company) was established in Castel Maggiore. There is no doubt that for some time now, industries in this province have been expanding with alacrity and have been attempting to overcome the difficulties affecting their natural and prosperous development. Not the least of these difficulties is the fact that, lacking mechanical workshops, not only did they have to resort to foreign countries to buy up all the machines and devices necessary for every perfected industry, but also kept the entrepreneurs away from those useful reforms and those improvements adopted in other places in regard to their machineries, with great results. There was also the heavy expense and long loss of time in foreign commissions to be considered. In this letter dated 24 March 1853, Luigi Pizzardi, a Bolognese landowner and nobleman, addressed the then Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Public Works, asking for approval of a joint stock company for the creation of "a mechanical and smelting plant, suitable for creating those machines that our industries might need, as well as for adapting and reforming those already in use". The statute that sanctioned the birth of the Società Anonima Officina Meccanica e Fonderia di Bologna was approved on the 9th of June 1853, and it stated that the company had been set up following "the increase in industry in this province", which had "manifested the need for an establishment specifically suited to building the machines and tools necessary for these industries". The Workshops "both for iron casting and for the construction of machines, are in Castel Maggiore, in the premises specially constructed by Signor Marchese Gaetano Pizzardi, from whom the Company rents them". The company's capital was 24,000 scudi, divided into 24 shares. The Workshop's activity immediately proved to be profitable and in a few years, it became a key factory in the area, winning several awards at the Agricultural and Industrial Exhibitions held in Bologna during the 1950s. The textile industry was also involved in this new phase, thanks to the creation of limited partnerships such as Tessitoria Meccanica Felsinea, set up in 1850 for the production of wool and silk yarns and fabrics; the wool factory of Filippo Manservisi e Compagni, of 1854, specialising in wool and cotton fabrics mixed with wool; and Giulio Sabatini's factory of 1856, "for silk spinning and the production of trimmings". Another element of modernisation, which equally affected the politics and economy of Bologna during the RIsorgimento period, was the establishment of the Società Agraria, the forge of those men who would "make" post-unification Bologna. Founded in 1807 on the impetus of the Enlightenment's ideas of science and progress, the society remained in its early years a place for discussion on scientific topics and mainly focused on improving crops and agrarian techniques. Landowners with the most innovative ideas were members, joined by lecturers from the University of Bologna and scholars. Dissolved with the Restoration of the Papal State, it only obtained permission to reconstitute itself in 1822, but was never given the proper freedom of action and speech. It was only after the revolution of 1831 that meetings were resumed with regularity under the presidency of Marquis Francesco Guidotti Magnani and thanks to the impulse of new intellectual forces: men who gradually formed the nucleus of that renewed Bolognese agrarian bourgeoisie, capable of taking a leading role in local and national life. Due to the changed political situation and the new impetus of liberal and progressive ideas, the Agrarian Society gave itself an organ for the public expression of its ideas: the newspaper "Il Felsineo", directed by Carlo Berti Pichat, whose main themes focused on the economy, but which, as the years progressed, also began to include issues more closely linked to the Risorgimento cause, and the Economic-Moral Conference, meetings held on Mondays in the Berti Pichat house and moderated by Marco Minghetti. The conferences marked the entry of politics into economic discussion and became the venue where the Bolognese moderates began to outline their general political programme. Now not only strictly agricultural matters were discussed, but also the economic problems connected with agriculture, and despite the severity of the censorship, more than a few hints of the national idea popped up; but in these conferences, above all, they became accustomed to freely discussing serious topics that would improve the fate of the country. One of the issues around which discussion revolved among the members of the Society, who were open and attentive to ideas coming from Europe, was the subject of free trade: Minghetti and the moderate Bolognese liberals believed that only the abolition of customs, combined with a modern system of communications, would improve the productive growth of the state. A choice that combined the desire to achieve national unification economically first and politically later as soon as possible. The customs union between the Italian states (which could have been modelled after the German Zollverein of 1834) advocated by Minghetti had a strong political as well as economic connotation: once a customs league between the states of the peninsula had been achieved, it would perhaps have been easier to move towards the federation of states proposed by Gioberti. With this in mind, on the evening of 4 May 1847 in Palazzo Baciocchi, a banquet was organised in honour of Richard Cobden, at which the moderator of the conference, the lawyer Andrea Pizzoli, welcomed the English economist with a speech in which he retraced the founding moments of Italian history, uniting politics and economics, praising the freedom of trade and national freedom. "And then you, who by preaching and victoriously persuading that freedom to the wise and thoughtful England, have made your name as glorious as those of Watt and Guttemberg, will have a reward for your long labours, which your kind and noble heart will, we hope, cherish as much as ever: the gratitude of three million Italians, who, like us now, will shout - Long live Riccardo Cobden proponent of commercial freedom - after having shouted - Long live Pio IX father of the subjects, beacon of Italy, protector of the whole Christian family". To remain in the sphere of culture and technical education, we cannot fail to mention the foundation in 1844 - following the testamentary bequests of Giovanni Aldini and Luigi Valeriani, both professors at the University of Bologna - of the Bolognese Technical Schools (from 1878 Istituto Aldini Valeriani per Arti e Mestieri), whose task was to train "good craftsmen", "good workshop managers", "good small industrialists", reflecting the common feeling that throughout the 19th century united men of culture and politicians in a unified desire for the city's development, including its economic development. The experience of the Schools, closed in 1869, continued in 1878 with the birth of the Aldini Valeriani Institute for Arts and Crafts, which combined theoretical preparation with practical training thanks to the annexed "school-workshop". In spite of these attempts throughout the first half of the 19th century, the economic situation in Bologna and its province continued to show a picture where large landed estates prevailed and where trade and even industry, despite the significant examples mentioned above, remained mainly anchored to agriculture and even capitals tended to be invested in this sector. Few industries were therefore awarded prizes at the Agrarian-Industrial Exhibition of the Province of Bologna in 1852, but among these stood out the enterprise (renowned throughout Europe) of brothers Carlo and Paolo Lollini "who exhibited various collections of surgical instruments, in which were recognised the perfect quality of steel, suitable tempering, excellent cleaning, shape and artistic execution, so as to stand up to the best comparisons". Modernity and preservation were therefore the hallmarks of the season that led from the restoration of the Papal State to Bologna's entry into the Unitary Kingdom, a season where in the economic sphere, although agriculture remained prevalent, small and medium-sized industries - in particular mechanics and food, the future leading sectors - were set up, the foundations were laid for a professionalisation of studies and a wider market than the city market was opened up.

3. A political unification | Without economic changes, the national unification determined a transformation: the years that immediately followed 1861 marked the beginning of a period of stagnation for Bologna's industry, mainly due to the liberal choice of Italy's leading class. It was particularly the textile industry to be negatively affected by the free-trade policy adopted after 1861 and of the subsequent foreign competition. The companies Manservisi, Pasquini and Matteuzzi were particularly affected, while the only factory to preserve an active production level was the Canonica workshop. On the other hand, agriculture knew a period of growth (until the 1980s crisis) and the production of corn, wheat, hemp and forage increased at a steady rhythm, reinforcing that already consolidated link between land ownership, income and capitalism, also highlighted by the Jacini agrarian investigation, which showed an almost total absence of an industrial culture in the entire region. The results of the agrarian investigation, led between 1870 and 1874, highlighted Emilia Romagna's condition in which persisted the artisanal traditional productions or the small and "very small" scale industry, and where handicraft with little use of steam engines prevailed, able to serve an almost exclusively local market. As far as the industrial sector is concerned, a little more than a dozen realities, focused in the textile, metalworking, mining and food sectors, existed. It was then necessary to wait for the agrarian crisis of the 1870s and 1880s, which led a general return to protectionist policies in Europe, to also see in Italy a return to more favourable conditions for the breakthrough of capitalism into Emilia's agriculture and economy in general. In the industrial field, these are the years in which the "second industrialisation" took place, not focused on the textile sector anymore, but on the mechanical and agro-alimentary ones instead. The protectionist turns, on one hand did not change the power relations - the major landowners and renters continued to hold the necessary capital to impose the general economic choices - and on the other it determined some new guidelines for the industry of Bologna and the region in general. In the first place, as mentioned, the definitive decline of the textile industry happened, whose role was taken up by the food industry, an industry which, if on one hand kept the characteristics the textile industry had had (small and medium workshops, limited capitals and a mostly territorial distribution), on the other hand it contributed to mark a new age for Bologna and the region and to characterize them under new standards: no longer silk and hemp, but mortadella and tortellini instead (not to mention the dairy products). The workshops were modern, provided with steam or gas engines, with a continued processing intended for exportation. The development of the food production led to new forms of packaging and preservation of the products, which started the growth of what would become one of the most flourishing branches of Bologna's industry: the packaging industry. The end of the 19th century saw the development of another food sector instead: that of canned food and of distillers. Noteworthy was also the progressive increase, during the last twenty years of the century, of a sector destined to become fundamental for the whole region: that of the sugar industry. The cultivation of the beetroot had taken off after the land reclamations that starting from the 1880s involved many lands between Bologna and Ferrara and this is where, at the beginning of the new century, this new sector took off. The display of these new developments undertaken by the industrial sector was the Regional Exposition of Industry and Agriculture that opened in Bologna in 1988. The choice of making the opening date overlap with the celebrations for the Eighth Centenary of the University of Bologna was determined by the desire to emphasize the region's economic and social progresses, without forgetting the culture. The Exposition was held in two distinct venues: in the San Michele in Bosco monastery was the Fine Arts exposition, while the Giardini Margherita - inaugurated a few years earlier - would have hosted the agrarian and industrial exposition. Here the visitors could witness the progresses of the local industry: the hemp coils that represented the bond with the past were accompanied by the exposition of the Majani chocolates and a 150kg mortadella.

4. An early industrial dynamic | The second half of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century were characterised, as far as Bolognese industry was concerned, on the one hand by the strengthening of the activities that had been created since the 1840s, and on the other by the increasing mechanisation of those activities that had long been central to Bologna's industrial process, such as textiles and foodstuffs. An important example is that of Luigi Zamboni, who in 1906 founded, together with Giuseppe Troncon, a mechanical workshop that produced machines for the manufacture pasta. In particular, he is credited with having created the one for packaging the famous Bolognese "tortellino"; by 1911 he was selling machines not only in Italy, but also in Europe and America. But it was above all the dawn of the new century that brought a new boost to the city's industrial development, a development that corresponded, also on a national level, to the second industrial revolution. A significant element of this new phase was the gradual introduction of electricity for both private and industrial use, which gradually became the driving force. At the end of the 19th century, only three small power stations distributing electricity to privates were still operating in Bologna. It was only in 1900, on the initiative of the Milan-based Società per lo sviluppo delle energie elettriche (Company for the Development of Electrical Energy), that a first plant was built along the Navile Canal in Italy, which in 1906 passed to the Società Bolognese di Elettricità (Bologna's Electricity Company), which provided for its enhancement. In the following years, the company built the Brasimone dam, capable of supporting private and industrial consumptions. The industrial panorama in Bologna at the beginning of the 20th century was destined to change in its basic coordinates: while the food industry, which had been an important feature of the previous century, began to decline, other sectors began to develop according to modern traits and characteristics that were competitive on the European market. In fact, the first Italian industrial census carried out in 1911 showed a panorama that had changed considerably for the Bolognese industrial sector. Alongside the traditional food industries, the chemical sector was developing - significant in this sphere was the birth in 1903 of Arturo Gazzoni's company, with the production of "Pasticca del Re Sole" (Sun King's Pastry) and "Idrolitina". However, the leading sector, the one that counted the most employees in the census, was still mechanics, which developed on the basis of the premises that had been laid down in the previous century: the production of machinery and tools for agriculture still prevailed. Four factories employed more than a hundred workers: next to Calzoni's, founded in 1834, were the Italo-Swiss Company and the Gaetano Barbieri Company. Both of these industries had their origins in the mechanical Workshops in Castel Maggiore. In 1865, engineers Edoardo De Morsier and Giovanni Mengotti took over the Workshop and transferred production to Bologna. In 1877, De Morsier, who remained the sole owner, began the production of steam engines and boilers for agriculture. In 1893, it changed its name to Società Italo-Svizzera and began to diversify production, specialising in water turbines and machinery for the food industry. In the warehouses in Castel Maggiore vacated by De Morsier, Gaetano Barbieri's company, founded in 1870, placed its headquarter. Initially, it produced steam boilers and machine tools, but in the Giolitti era it was one of the first to specialise in refrigeration systems. Also active in the mechanical sector was the Società per le strade ferrate meridionali (Company for Southern Railways), which helped strengthen Bologna's role as a central railway hub and laid the foundations for the development of other sectors in the 1920s. Bologna's industrial development in the Giolitti era was characterised by a mixture of modernity and preservation, also due to the characteristics of the personnel employed in the industries, most of whom came from the old artisan tradition, while the innovative features were the result of modern technical knowledge provided by the students of the technical schools. It must be added that the market this industry was addressing was still very restricted: a self-consumption economy still prevailed, with low wages and a strong presence of home processing. For these reasons, despite the innovative elements, the growth of the Bolognese economy at the beginning of the 20th century was still "horizontal, slow, physiological", "not determined by the intervention of new and extraordinary agents, but rather connected more to the evolution of the economic and social life of the territory, with very slow changes and the persistence of many traditional elements". It was the First World War that led to a significant increase in industrial production in Bologna, thanks to a strengthening of public demand, particularly in the field of mechanics. The intervention of the Central Committee for Industrial Mobilisation and in particular the regional committees favoured the mobilisation - and in some cases the conversion - of private industry for the production of war armaments. A case in point is the story of the Maccaferri company, which had risen from a small, almost artisanal enterprise specialising in the production of iron objects and shutters at the end of the 19th century to become a company specialising in embankment and road construction in 1907. In wartime, the production of gabion nets was reconverted to the manufacture of barbed wire. A similar fate was shared by many branches of the food industry - the canned goods industry had a considerable boost - and those specialising in the packaging of consumer goods, such as textiles. However, the sector that was most affected by the "war effort" was undoubtedly the mechanical sector. New industrial complexes started producing war material alongside the companies already present - Calzoni, for example, specialised in the production of cartridge packaging machines. While from a small company established in 1915 for the production of spare materials for railways, SASIB (Scipione and Innocenti Bologna Limited Company) would be born in 1933. Many of the enterprises that would characterise the following decades were then established in the last years of the conflict. In 1914, Ettore Menarini decided to open a small workshop, which was however forced to close because he was called by the army. In 1919, when the conflict was over, he opened Carrozzeria Menarini e C., which from 1925 began producing bodies for public and industrial transport: vans, ambulances, buses. In those same years, Giuseppe Minganti also opened a workshop that was later transformed into a factory in 1924. Not originally from the city, however, was Carlo Regazzoni, founder of the Casaralta Workshops, specialising in the production of railway equipment. During the war, these industrial plants had to deal with the shortage of manpower called up to the front and therefore resorted to female labour; this phenomenon, which had great significance nationwide, also occurred in the Bologna area, although to a lesser extent than in the regions of the "industrial triangle" (Turin-Milan-Genoa), for example.

5. The motorbike: the new heart of Bologna's industry | In the aftermath of the First World War, the Bolognese economy had effectively changed in its fundamental lines compared to the whole season of the "long 19th century". Despite the consolidation of the interests and properties of those large land tenants who, by taking over the properties, had replaced the great aristocratic landowners in the management of the land, agriculture was destined to take a back seat to the new industrial sector. The Italian industry of the early 1920s profited from the period of inflation that immediately followed the end of the conflict by fostering industrial growth and the repayment of the war debt incurred by the companies. This growth remained until the revaluation of the lira at "quota 90", followed by the crisis of 1929. In Bologna's area in particular, the 1920s were characterised, despite the effects of the fascist policy of "integral reclamation", by a stagnation of agricultural production, which had by then "reached its limits" in terms of job production. On the contrary, there was an explosion of the mechanical industry, thanks also to the development of the motor and radio technology sectors. Among the "historic" industries still present in Bologna, one cannot fail to mention the Calzoni company, which specialised in the production of turbines for the hydroelectric industry after the war, and Maccaferri & Pisa, which combined the production of gabions and other metal products with other activities, such as Hatù, a company specialising in latex products from 1922 onwards. In 1926, on the other hand, thanks to a patent by Adriano Cavalieri Ducati was born a company of the same name, specialising in the radio-electric sector. Many of these new companies later sprang up as a result of the development of the national automobile industry: for Fiat, for example, the Bolognese Weber, specialising in carburettors, Menarini, producing bodywork, Minganti, for various components, and BB (Brevetti Baroncini) for spark plugs. However, it was one sector in particular that characterised the "boom" of Bolognese industry in the 1920s: motorbikes. Combining the characteristic of a low-cost means of locomotion and the "passion" of many sportsmen, the motorbike was one of the emblems of the economy and society of the first half of the 20th century. For these reasons, several Bolognese craftsmen tried their hand at creating "local" models capable of competing with foreign brands. Bologna was home to Mario Ghirardi and Guido Dall'Oglio's G.D. Company, founded in 1923 (Enzo Seragnoli would take over in 1939), Mario Mazzetti and Alfonso Morini's M.M. founded in 1924, and Mario Cavedagna's C.M. founded in 1925. In 1924, the Fabbrica Automobili Maserati (Maserati Car Factory) specialising in sports cars had sprung up in the city from a small repair shop and was then sold and transferred to Modena in 1937. Also in the 1920s, another of the sectors that would contribute to the growth of Bologna's industry became established: that of packaging. A pioneer in this field was Gaetano Barbieri, who in 1924 founded the company A.C.M.A., specialising in the manufacture of automatic enveloping machines, which quickly became a worldwide success. In the food sector, the greatest successes came in the coffee roasting sector: it was then that some of the big names that can still be found on supermarket shelves or in the city's bars: Filicori and Zecchini (1919) and Segafredo (1922). The modernity and specialisation achieved in these years by Bologna's industry determined a novelty in an economic panorama that for the entire previous century had remained "anchored" to techniques and production models linked de facto to agricultural production. Bolognese industry in the 1920s and 1930s was therefore characterised by a modernisation and specialisation of production and by a twofold underlying character that has been the subject of recent studies. On the one hand, the high technological nature of the large mechanical companies, also favoured by a now "widespread technical culture" stemming from the Aldini-Valeriani Technical Institute. On the other, this industry could still count on a terrain of small and medium-sized companies of a still artisan and semi-craftsman nature, linked to large companies, which allowed for a particular form of industrial collaboration and decentralisation in the area. This particular production system was one of the factors that contributed to Bologna's industry feeling the effects of the great crisis of 1929 to a limited extent. "Small and medium-sized flexible companies were born in Bologna, becoming central to the city's economic structure a few decades later; their main characteristic was that they specialised in products that were particularly adaptable to the needs of the market and at the same time were able to create particularly lean production structures". For this reason, despite the severity of the economic crisis and the fact that some sectors, such as textiles and foodstuffs, suffered from the slowdown of the national and international market and in mechanics many companies had to reduce production and personnel, "no company of any importance was forced to close". Bologna's was "an extremely flexible production system that was able to articulate itself positively with respect to both the needs of the market and the conjunctures of national and international politics". A "flexibility" that ensured that the Bolognese industry was able to "adapt its planning and operational capabilities without difficulty and successfully to the new requirements of autarkic policy first, and military intervention in the Second World War later". In fact, production began to grow again in the mid-1930s thanks to the boost from wartime orders: Calzoni, for example, began manufacturing hydrodynamic systems for submarines and aircraft; Weber, which in 1940 inaugurated a new and larger factory in Via Timavo, in addition to its carburettors began producing pumps and injectors, while A.C.M.A. shifted its production of dosing machines from sachets for Idrolitina to gunpowder for filling ammunition. Finally, Ducati, which had been declared an auxiliary company, enjoyed a real "boom" thanks to the sale of radio equipment. This great war effort had as its counterpart a high risk of aerial bombardment starting in the summer of 1943. This danger had already been felt at Ducati since 1942 and most of the plants had been moved to peripheral locations in the Bolognese countryside. The intense bombing in 1943 affected not only the civilian population, but also part of the Moto Morini and SABIEM plants.

6. At the origins of Bologna's "economic miracle" | At the end of the Second World War, Bolognese industry had to face a period of relative crisis due in part to the destruction caused by the bombing, but above all to a drop in demand that was largely due to a reduction in public and military orders. The 1951 industrial census showed a decline in the number of companies (by almost 3,000) and a decrease in the number of employees by 4,000. However, from the early 1950s Bologna experienced a particular "economic boom", which had different characteristics from the national one. One of the main elements characterising the resilience of Bologna's industry was the decision of the main industrial sectors to focus not on the creation of large factories, but on "flexibility and specialisation in small and medium-sized companies". Resuming a model introduced in the 1930s, Bologna's major industrialists chose to restructure their companies and "decentralise" production, thus continuing to guarantee a strong specialisation that almost seemed to take on the characteristics of a highly specialised craft. A "flexible specialisation", made up of "a fabric of numerous small and medium-sized enterprises, modernly equipped, dedicated to specialised production of small series or tendentially customised goods, of high quality and accuracy of workmanship, and with great flexibility in production orientation and work organisation". This system, which remained unchanged for the following decades, allowed the area to be defined as a "large polycentric district, crossed by a dense network of vertical and horizontal production links". The primary sectors of this system remained those of the previous decades, with greater product diversification. Leading the way remained the mechanical engineering industry, in particular packaging and motor engineering, to which electromechanics and machine tools were also added. On the other hand, the food industry, despite remaining present, declined, while the shoe industry, for example, grew. The motor industry was certainly the driving force behind Bologna's "economic miracle" of the 1950s. Thanks to a now solid tradition and a sporting "fashion", fuelled by racing now also transmitted through the new media, orders for Bolognese motorbikes increased. Alongside the traditional companies, such as Moto Morini, which once again managed to adapt production in the aftermath of the war, others came up, such as Malaguti and Italjet. Following a well-established tradition, most of them often arose thanks to the initiative and skill of specialised craftsmen who had worked for large companies or turned their knowledge into new designs. A special case in point was Ducati, which, in order to overcome the post-war crisis, decided to diversify its production and develop the engine sector. It began in 1946, with the production of the Cucciolo, a motor to be fitted to bicycle frames, based on a patent from the Turin company SIATA, to gradually expand production. In 1953, the electrotechnical and motor sectors separated, creating two separate companies, and the following year the Gran Sport 100 "Marianna", designed by Fabio Taglioni, was presented. Another of the mainstays of Bolognese industry in the years of the economic miracle was the packaging sector - in which Enzo Seragnoli's G.D specialised, thus abandoning the motoring sector - a sector that underwent considerable development with the increase in mass consumption of packaged products. Even in the food industry, there were some important names on the national scene such as Alcisa and Buton, but in general its development was less noticeable compared to that of mechanics and engines. Throughout the period of the economic miracle, industry in Bologna was able to count on a season of development, thanks to those characteristics summarised here and originating from the long 19th century that had laid its foundations. A predominantly agricultural century the nineteenth century, certainly, but also a season in which the foundations were laid for an industrial development that would draw its strength from agriculture, because an early mechanical industry developed from it. Those large landowners who knew how to "innovate", "experiment" with new machines and invest in the first workshops, were not so far removed from those industrial "spirits" who a century later chose to invest in engines and modernity. Central to the development of the Bolognese industrial "model" was also the "communion" between a tradition of craft trades, which was for a long time the basis of the innovative and productive spirit of the Bolognese industrialists, and the technical-scientific knowledge imparted in the Bolognese technical schools. A fundamental impulse in this came from the Aldini-Valeriani Institute, which was a veritable forge for training specialised workers and technicians. Then, in the 1877/1878 academic year, the University of Bologna inaugurated the Scuola di Applicazione per gli ingegneri (Application School for Engineers), which had two sections: one for training engineers and the other for architects. In 1899/1900 the teaching of Electrotechnics was activated, later joined by the establishment of a Scientific Cabinet of Electrotechnics. It was not until 1935 that the Faculty of Engineering arose from this nucleus, with two sections, Civil and Industrial. The latter reflected the main specialisations of Bolognese industry in the two sections into which it was divided, Mechanics and Electrotechnics. The Bolognese industrial model can be said to have maintained an intense link with the economic, social and financial structures of the region. The city's main credit institutions, the Cassa di Risparmio, the Banca del Monte, and the Credito Romagnolo, with their dense network of branches throughout the territory, represented one of the main sources of credit for the Bolognese economy. Finally, Bologna could count on its central geographical position in the transport and communications system of the peninsula, a position emphasised and supported by the development of communication networks: the railway from the mid-19th century and the motorway network for the "boom" years. A combination of elements that contributed to making Bologna's industry a particular example of an industrial model, able to compete with those of the better known "industrial triangle" and that undoubtedly ensured its longevity until the years of the economic boom.

Elena Musiani

Text taken from 'La Ruota e l'Incudine la memoria dell'Industria Meccanica bolognese in Certosa', Minerva, 2016. Translated by Lorenzo Rocco, 2022.