1860 | 1915
The economy of Bologna in the years of unification
Soon after the entering in the savoyard Kingdom, (decided/ratified) by the plebiscite of March 11 and 12, 1860, the city of Bologna finds herself to cope with the consequences of the economic policy carried out by the Papal States, characterised by high customs duties, difficulty of transport, (rare circulating capital). Though holding the economic and industrial (record) of the Emilian cities, Bologna has been excluded by the rapid industrialization process that involved Europe and the cities of Northern Italy; what carries out Bologna’s economy has been and still is agriculture, that keeps (turning around) itself handicraft, commerce, (banks) and a few industries that avoided the national and abroad competition.
The unification accompanies the agricultural growth process, already existing from several decades, and, till the agricultural crisis of the Eighties, the production of wheat, corn, rice, hemp and forages constantly increases; at the same time, the manufacturing production suffers from the market opening and the liberist policy in the newly unified State and is forced, in its best moments, to renounce to the most advanced phases of working, even to interrupt its activity, as it is shown by the case of silk weaving, beaten by the Lombard competition (the solely somewhat important textile factory still is the Canonica hemp mill founded in 1851). If a lot of (small) producers, (after having become poor), sell their own workers, the capitals’ owners rely on safe investments of funds or on income titles; the industrial sector seems widely subordinated to the agricultural economy and to the alliance between land owners and speculator capitalists, while the agricultural and industrial Inquiry carried out by Stefano Jacini between 1877 and 1874 remarks the almost totally absent industrialist ideology; in addition, we have the lack of a specific culture regarding production and market rules. The wheat protectionism measure, introduced in 1887 as a consequence of the agricultural crisis which involves the whole of Europe, generally modifies the development lines of the regional agricultural economy by supporting the capitalism penetration; yet the only beneficiaries of the new commercial policy are the big owners and land renters, while the small peasantry factories find obstacles along the cultivation specialization process, the only one possibility to find a self-sufficient space in the market. But who paid the worst consequences of the new protectionist fares is the agricultural proletariat, made up of ex-farmers and (small) land owners forced to live as (wage-earning) workers: the periodical unemployment mainly concerns farm-workers and those who don’t opt for the way of emigration go through a progressive depreciation in the job market, this a condition on which will be based the first kinds of co-operativism and the big strikes of the first years of the Twentieth century.
The agricultural capitalism gets stronger and stronger thanks to the excess of working men it can count on and it continues to play its role of stimulating the development of transformation factories, meant to be agricultural economy’s (appendixes). (It’s during the Exposition of 1888, when Bologna shows itself as a productive center of national importance, that the improvements take place): what dates back to this period is the expansion of (alimentary industry) (in the molinary, dairy, rice hulling, sausages branches) accompanied by a substantial technical and productive progress; the sacchariferous production system, the introduction and diffusion of industrial plants, like sugar beet and tomato, mark the beginning of an independent development that will feature the cyclic phase of expansion of Emilian industry, supported by the penetration of extraregional capitals. In the mechanical sector, the factories already existing on the territory (Calzoni, Barbieri, De Morsier) get stronger by orientating their production to hydroelectric plants, hydraulic turbines, pumps and compressors for cooling; the Maccaferri family, since 1879, is engaged in the construction of iron cages for embankments and chains for tottering buildings, while, a few years after, the Zamboni & Troncon firm creates the first machines for pasta manufacturing (above all, the “tortellino”, one of the most famous Bolognese products). Besides the mechanical sector, the alimentary branch represents one of the most important realities in Bologna’s economic landscape: since 1796, in fact, the Majani firm works in Bologna, known at national level for the production of (solid) chocolate; the proud tradition of “mortadella”, carried out by the “salsamentari” Fratelli Zappoli and Medardo Bassi, finds in Alessandro Forni’s conservation method the way to a bigger exportation, sustained by the development of railway communications; in the pharmaceutical production since 1901 the Gazzoni firm has been prevailing, due to the Pasticca del Re Sole and Idrolitina. During the years, Bologna obtains some infrastructures that spread over the national territory and in 1889 the first town-planning scheme is launched, it is meant to give the city an urbanistic setting responding to the new necessities. Unlike several (communes/boroughs) in the province soon directing themselves to public illumination through electricity, at Bologna the electrification of city illumination is completed only after the first world war; in 1900, gas production and diffusion are (municipalized). Despite these remarkable developments, the Bolognese economic setting is still characterised by the predominance of the agricultural sector; the Emilian industry shows all the limits of its growth, mainly in the critical years following 1910: the high percentage of irregular workers, the technologically backward factories, the missing renewal of the credit institutes towards the new industrial necessities negatively influence the new sectors’growth, not yet able to substantially modify the economic life of this territory. Bologna, in the period before the first world war, hasn’t entered the phase of industrial take-off yet.