Showing posts with label 1868. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1868. Show all posts

13 August 2018

Camillo Olivetti - electrical engineer

Founder of Italy’s first typewriter factory

Camillo Olivetti in 1930, at around the time he handed the reins to son Adriano
Camillo Olivetti in 1930, at around the
time he handed the reins to son Adriano
The electrical engineer Camillo Olivetti, who opened Italy’s first typewriter factory and founded a company that would become a major player in electronic business technology, was born on this day in 1868 in Ivrea in Piedmont.

The Olivetti company that later produced Italy’s first electronic computer was developed by Adriano Olivetti, the oldest of Camillo's five children, but it was his father’s vision and enterprise that laid the foundations for the brand’s success and established the Olivetti name.

Camillo came from a Jewish middle-class background. His father, Salvador Benedetto, was a successful merchant. His mother, Elvira, came from a banking family in Modena but her interests were more cultural. She was fluent in four languages.

Elvira had full care of Camillo after Salvador died when the boy was only one and sent him to boarding school in Milan at a young age.  Although his mother’s fluency in four languages was a help - he learned English early in his life - she understood his inclination to work in electronics.

After graduating from the Royal Italian Industrial Museum (later the Polytechnic of Turin) with a diploma in industrial engineering, Camillo broadened his knowledge by travelling. He spent more than a year in London working in an industry that produced electrical instrumentation and later went to the United States with his former university professor, Galileo Ferraris, who in Chicago in 1893 introduced him to his hero, Thomas Edison.

The first Olivetti typewriter, the M1, which Camillo designed himself for production at the Ivrea factory
The first Olivetti typewriter, the M1, which Camillo
designed himself for production at the Ivrea factory
Olivetti remained in the United States after Ferraris returned to Italy, taking up a position as electrotechnical assistant at Stanford University. 

Back in Italy in 1894, he teamed up with a couple of old college friends in his first business venture, importing typewriters, before deciding to go into production with a factory making electrical measuring instruments, entering into partnership with a number of investors.

The business grew, moving to factories in Milan and then Monza to enable increased production, but Olivetti had disagreements with his investors over how much of their budget should be spent on research, so the venture ended.

Taking 40 workers with him, he then moved back to Ivrea and, in 1908, opened the first dedicated Olivetti typewriter factory, a distinctive building in local Canavese red brick.

The original red brick factory was retained when Olivetti built new modern premises in Via Jervis in Ivrea
The original red brick factory was retained when Olivetti
built new modern premises in Via Jervis in Ivrea
The first typewriter produced - from 1911 onwards - was the M1, which Olivetti designed himself based on the knowledge he had acquired in the United States.

At first, production was on a relatively small scale - about 1,000 machines per year - and the business began to grow exponentially only after the First World War, when Olivetti shrewdly diversified into aircraft parts, which were technologically advanced and therefore in constant demand.

When life returned to normal after the war, Olivetti was well placed to expand and developed a much improved typewriter, the M20.  His business model, visionary at the time, included setting up Olivetti branches in Milan and then other Italian cities - and eventually abroad - to provide assistance to customers at local level.

Throughout much of his life, Camillo Olivetti was active politically. As a young man, a socialist by inclination, he was appalled by the what he saw as contempt for working people by the ruling classes and travelled to Milan in 1898 to take part in the so-called bread riots, when soldiers opened fire on protesters, resulting in 500 deaths. Angered by what he had seen, he considered raising his own armed force with the intention of stirring up revolution.

Adriano Olivetti shared his father's vision and concerns for the workforce and the local community
Adriano Olivetti shared his father's vision and concerns
for the workforce and the local community
He was dissuaded from such drastic action but spent much of his life campaigning, mainly through newspaper columns, on the side of the working man.  When the Fascists rose to power, he became an outspoken critic of Mussolini’s regime, taking part in a protest in Ivrea in 1924 following the murder of the socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti.

He scaled down his activities only when he began to fear Fascist reprisals against his factory in Ivrea. At one stage, after Mussolini introduced his race laws, Camillo had his family flee the country for their own safety.

Although he was a businessman foremost, he recognised the need for good relationships between employers and workers and supported the establishment of trade unions.

Olivetti would become a famous name worldwide, well-known for its technical excellence and modern designs as Camillo and later Adriano employed many famous designers and architects to work on their products and publicity campaigns, including Ignazio Gardella and Marco Zanuso.

But the company would also be admired for consistent social welfare policies. When Adriano became chairman of the company in 1938, he increases production to around 15,000 machines per year but at the same time, as the town’s biggest employer, instigated projects that would change the face of Ivrea, building schools, houses, roads and recreational facilities.

Camillo died at the age of 75 in 1943, having moved to Biella, not far from the border with Switzerland, in the 1930s because of the anti-Jewish political climate further south.

Ivrea's cathedral, with its neoclassical facade
Ivrea's cathedral, with its neoclassical facade
Travel tip:

Ivrea, where Camillo Olivetti was born and established his business, is a town in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, about 50km (31 miles) north of Turin. It has a 14th century castle and the ruins of a 1st century Roman theatre that would have been able to hold 10,000 spectators. The town’s cathedral, which originated from a church built on the same site in 4th century, itself at the site of a pagan temple, was reconstructed in around 1000 AD in Romanesque style and, in 1785, rebuilt again in a Baroque style. The current neoclassical façade was added in the 19th century. Ivrea hosts an annual carnival before Easter, which includes the Battle of the Oranges, where teams of locals on foot throw oranges at teams riding in carts.

The Palazzo Cisterna in Biella
The Palazzo Cisterna in Biella
Travel tip:

Biella, which sits in the foothill of the Alps, is about 85km (53 miles) northeast of Turin and slightly more than 100km (62 miles) west of Milan. It is surrounded by beautiful mountains and divided into two districts - Biella-Piano and Biella-Piazzo, which are connected to each other by steep streets and a funicular railway. Biella-Piazzo, the Medieval district, is dominated by the magnificent Palazzo Cisterna. Biella-Piano is the home of the Duomo, the pre-Romanesque Baptistery and a museum of Biellese history.

More reading:

Ignazio Gardella - the modern designer with an eye for the classical

Marco Zanuso, architect and designer who put Italy at the forefront of contemporary design

How Karl Zuegg turned the family farm into an international company

Also on this day:

1819: The birth of Risorgimento activist Aurelio Saffi

1912: The birth of award-winning microbiologist Salvador Luria


8 April 2017

Federico Caprilli - equestrian pioneer

Study of horses revolutionised jumping techniques

Federico Caprilli in his cavalry uniform
Federico Caprilli, the Italian cavalry officer who revolutionised the way horse riders jump fences, was born on this day in 1868 in Livorno.

One of four children born to Enrico Caprilli and his wife, Elvira, Federico was bent on an army career from an early age. He enrolled as a cadet at military college in Florence at 13 years old, subsequently transferring to Rome and then Modena. He had no riding experience at the start, and when he graduated with the rank of lieutenant, though an excellent gymnast and proficient fencer, his horsemanship was marked as ‘poor’.

Nonetheless, he was assigned to the Royal Piedmont cavalry regiment, where his job, at a time when the introduction of weapons such as the Gatling Gun was negating any battlefield advantage a soldier had from being mounted, was to train horses for new combat roles, such as springing surprise attacks in difficult terrain.

It was there that he observed the way horses jumped obstacles and concluded that conventional beliefs about the way a horse should be ridden over jumps were entirely wrong.

Until Caprilli came along, it was accepted that the rider should use long stirrups and approach a fence leaning back in the saddle, legs stretched almost straight.  A sharp pull on the horse’s head was seen as the way to launch the jump.

This antique hunting scene shows a rider in typical  jumping position, leaning backwards
This antique hunting scene shows a rider in typical
jumping position, leaning backwards
Antique prints of hunting scenes inevitably show the rider in this position, leaning backwards in the saddle and appearing to jump fences in hope rather than any expectation of making a safe landing.

No one questioned this, even though the riding position was essentially the same as was employed in the middle ages, when heavy suits of armour compelled the rider to sit bolt upright.  The accepted wisdom, too, was that landing on its front legs was bad for the horse, especially carrying the additional weight of a rider, and that it should be encouraged to land on its hind legs, or at least on all four legs.

In fact, horses often injured themselves as a result of this flawed technique, either through catching the obstacle with their trailing hind legs or developing back problems.  What’s more, the jab in the mouth as the rider yanked on the reins often caused them to refuse to jump.

Caprilli, who used the relatively new device of photography to underline his findings, observed that when they jumped freely, with no rider, horses always landed on their front legs and were none the worse for it.

As a result, he devised a technique whereby the rider adopted a forward position, slightly out of the saddle, his upper body in line with the horse’s neck, his centre of gravity directly over the horse’s, and with no pressure applied to the animal’s mouth.  Caprilli also instructed his riders to allow the horse to think for itself about how it approached an obstacle and when it took off.

Caprilli's technique is demonstrated perfectly by this rider at Badminton in 2008
Caprilli's technique is demonstrated perfectly
by this rider at Badminton in 2008
The results were startling. Horses were suddenly much more willing to jump obstacles and were able to negotiate banks and ditches much more nimbly than before.  In short, they were ready to operate in terrain that would previously have been off limits.

Yet far from being congratulated, Caprilli received a frosty response from his superiors, who did not take kindly to their faith in the old methods being exposed as foolish.  Rumours, which it is suspected were false, began to circulate about his private life, of romantic entanglements with aristocratic wives, and he was posted to the south of Italy, out of harm’s way.

However, he continued to hone his techniques and when word of his excellent results in equestrian competitions reached his old regiment’s headquarters in Pinerolo in Piedmont, he was summoned back.

He was made chief instructor at the Cavalry School of Pinerolo as well as its subsidiary in Tor di Quinto (near Rome). After a year of training, riders who attended the schools were able to negotiate the jumps and obstacles of the training circuit even without reins.

Soon, as the Italian cavalry began to dominate international competition, riders came from countries around the world to study Caprilli's system and it became the new standard for any form of equestrian pursuit that involved jumping.

Caprilli died in slightly mysterious circumstances in 1907, when his body was found on a cobbled path in Pinerolo.  It was suggested that he had been attacked by a jealous husband or a resentful superior but there were no obvious signs that he had met his death in that way and it was concluded that his mount must have slipped on some ice, throwing him off, and that he had hit his head on the cobbles.

The duomo in Piazza San Donato in Pinerolo
The duomo in Piazza San Donato in Pinerolo
Travel tip:

Pinerolo is a beautiful town in the shadow of the alps, some 50km (31 miles) south-west of Turin.  It has a charming main square, the Piazza San Donato, overlooked by the cathedral of the same name, which dates back to the ninth century and which has a Romanesque bell tower and a Gothic façade. The church of Santa Croce, in Vicolo Barone, is another picturesque sight.

The commemorative plaque outside 115 Viale Italia
The commemorative plaque outside 115 Viale Italia

Travel tip:

In Livorno, where Caprilli was born, a commem- orative plaque marks the family home in Viale Italia, at number 115.  He was honoured in 1937 when the local horse racing track was renamed Ippodromo Federico Caprilli. At one time it boasted a fully illuminated track and could accommodate crowds of up to 10,000 spectators but it closed in 2016 after the company that owned it went out of business.

More reading:

Frankie Dettori - Milan-born jockey among all-time greats

The traditional horse race, the Palio di Siena

Luigi Beccali - Italy's first Olympic track gold medallist

Also on this day:

1848: The death of operatic genius Gaetano Donizetti

(Picture credits: Horse jumping by Henry Bucklow; Pinerolo duomo by Mattana; plaque by Piergiuliano Chesi; via Wikimedia Commons)


21 February 2017

Giuseppe Abbati - painter and revolutionary

Early death robbed Italian art of bright new talent

Giovanni Boldini's portrait of  Giuseppe Abbati in 1865
Giovanni Boldini's portrait of
Giuseppe Abbati in 1865
Italy lost a great artistic talent tragically young when the painter and patriot Giuseppe Abbati died on this day in 1868.

Only 32 years old, Abbati passed away in the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence, having contracted rabies as a result of being bitten by a dog.

Abbati was a leading figure in the Macchiaioli movement, a school of painting advanced by a small group of artists who began to meet at the Caffè Michelangiolo in Florence in the late 1850s.

The group, in which Giovanni Fattori, Silvestro Lega and Cristiano Banti were other prominent members, were also for the most part revolutionaries, many of whom had taken part in the uprisings that occurred at different places in the still-to-be-united Italian peninsula in 1848.

Abbati, born in Naples, had joined Giuseppe Garibaldi's Expedition of the Thousand, losing his right eye in the Battle of the Volturno in 1860, when around 24,000 partisans were confronted by a 50,000-strong Bourbon army at Capua, north of Naples.

The son of Vincenzo Abbati, also a painter, Abbati was taken to live in Florence when he was six and to Venice before he was 10.  The family stayed in Venice for 12 years, Abbati attending the Accademia di Belle Arti, where he met future Macchiaioli painters Vito D'Ancona and Telemaco Signorini.

Abbati's painting Il lattaio di Piagentina, which was completed in Florence in 1864 (Museo Civico, Naples)
Abbati's painting Il lattaio di Piagentina, which was
completed in Florence in 1864 (Museo Civico, Naples)
It was there that he witnessed the uprising against the Austrians led by Daniele Manin, future president of the short-lived Republic of San Marco.

Abbati returned to Naples in 1858, exhibiting at the Royal Bourbon Museum, before moving again to Florence in 1860 and making the acquaintance at the Caffè Michelangiolo of the Macchiaioli group.

They were a group who favoured political renewal but wanted also to establish a new Italian national pictorial culture, breaking away from the conventions taught by the established academies.  They believed that spots - macchie, in Italian - of light and shade were the chief components of works of art and were also advocates of painting outdoors - often referred to by the French expression en plein air - in order to capture the way scenes appeared at the time of execution, and how they are affected by light and weather conditions.

Abbati's La Fenestra, which is housed
in the Pitti Palace in Florence
Comparisons were made with the Impressionist movement in France but the Macchiaioli were less bold in their pursuit of optical effects and their outlines and figures were generally more sharply defined.

Abbati was seen as one of the most talented in the group and enjoyed a period of high productivity between 1860 and 1866 with a series of street or countryside scenes, sometimes painting a scene through the frame of a window or an archway, emphasising the contrasts of light and shade.

He tasted military action again in 1866, joining up to fight in the Third Italian War of Independence on the side of the new Kingdom of Italy against the Austrians.  He was captured during the Battle of Custoza and imprisoned in Croatia.

On his return to Italy, he lived on the estate owned by Diego Martelli, a patron and critic he met in Florence, in Castelnuovo della Misericordia, in the hills above Livorno, on the Tuscan coast.

It was there, however, that Abbati was bitten by one of Martelli's dogs, which turned out to be rabid.  He was treated in hospital for almost six weeks before the disease finally took him.

The facade of the 11th century Basilica of Sant' Angelo in Formis was built over a Roman temple
The facade of the 11th century Basilica of Sant'
Angelo in Formis was built over a Roman temple 
Travel tip:

Capua, where Abbati fought alongside Garibaldi in the Expedition of the Thousand, developed as a town around the point at which the Volturno river crosses the Via Appia, the Roman road linking Rome with Brindisi, and therefore was always strategically important.  There are many Roman relics including the remains of the second largest amphitheatre of the Roman empire.  Only the Colosseum in Rome has larger dimensions.  The 11th century Basilica of Sant'Angelo in Formis and the Cathedral of Capua, some of which dates back to the ninth century and which contains painting by Domenico Vaccaro, are also worth visiting.

The plaque outside 21 Via Cavour in Florence marks the site of the Caffè Michelangiolo
The plaque outside 21 Via Cavour in Florence marks
the site of the Caffè Michelangiolo 
Travel tip:

The Caffè Michelangiolo was a literary cafe that could be found in what was then Via Largo (now Via Cavour) in Florence, a short distance from the centre of the city going towards the university.  The building at 21 Via Cavour has a plaque to commemorate its history as a meeting place of the Macchiaioli artists. Today it is a centre for events and exhibitions celebrating their work.

More reading:

How Carlo Carra and the Futurists turned their art into a political movement

Marcello Piacentini: designer whose buildings symbolised Fascist ideals

Giuseppe Mazzini - hero of the Risorgimento

Also on this day:


13 November 2015

Gioachino Rossini

Italian composer who found the fast route to wealth and popularity

The success of Rossini's early operas made him wealthy and successful even as a young man
The success of Rossini's early operas made him
wealthy and successful even as a young man 
One of Italy’s most prolific composers, Gioachino Rossini, died on this day in France in 1868.

He wrote 39 operas as well as sacred music, songs and instrumental music. He is perhaps best remembered for, The Barber of Seville (Il barbiere di Siviglia), and Cinderella (La Cenerentola).

Rossini was born into a musical family living in Pesaro on the Adriatic coast in 1792. During his early years his mother earned her living singing at theatres in the area and he quickly developed musical talent of his own.

He made his first and only appearance on stage as a singer in 1805 but then settled down to learn the cello.

His first opera, The Marriage Contract (La cambiale di matrimonio), was staged at Teatro La Fenice opera house in Venice when he was just 18.

In 1813 his operas, Tancredi and L’italiana in Algeri, were big successes in Venice and he found himself famous at the age of 20.

The Barber of Seville was first produced in Rome in 1816 and was so successful that even Beethoven wrote to congratulate Rossini on it.

Rossini as an older man, in about 1865
Rossini as an older man, in about 1865
The composer became wealthy and in big demand and travelled to Austria, France and England. In 1824 he accepted the post of musical director at a theatre in Paris and wrote Guillaume Tell (William Tell) during his time there.

Rossini came back to live quietly in Italy for about ten years, but returned to France in 1855, where he died at the age of 76 from pneumonia at his country house in Passy.

He was initially buried in Paris but because of his enormous popularity in Italy, his remains were moved to the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence at the request of the Italian Government in 1887.

The magnificent Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence, where Rossini's remains were transferred from Paris
The magnificent Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence, where
Rossini's remains were transferred from Paris
Travel tip:

Many famous Italians are buried in the magnificent 12th century Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence. Rossini’s remains were transferred here from France in 1887, leaving an empty tomb for people to visit at the cemetery in Paris.

Travel tip:

Pesaro is a beautiful, traditional seaside resort on the Adriatic coast renowned for its sandy beach. Rossini’s birthplace, at Via Rossini 34, is now a museum dedicated to the composer and there is also a theatre named after him. A Rossini opera festival is held in Pesaro every summer.