Showing posts with label San Francisco. Show all posts
Showing posts with label San Francisco. Show all posts

16 April 2019

Felice Pedroni - prospector

Italian’s discovery sparked Fairbanks Gold Rush


Felice Pedroni, a photograph taken in Alaska  in the early 20th century
Felice Pedroni, a photograph taken in Alaska
in the early 20th century
The gold prospector known as Felix Pedro was born Felice Pedroni on this day in 1858 in the village of Trignano, near the small Apennine town of Fanano in Emilia-Romagna.

In July 1902, on or around the 22nd, Pedroni discovered gold in the Tanana Hills northeast of the fledgling town of Fairbanks, Alaska in a small, then unnamed stream (later to be called Pedro Creek).

Some claim that Pedroni was the prospector who, on his return to Fairbanks from his prospecting mission, uttered the famous words "There's gold in them there hills", although there are other accounts of where the phrase originated.

What does not seem to be disputed is that Pedroni’s discovery triggered what became known as the Fairbanks Gold Rush as more than 1,000 other gold diggers flooded the area.

Brought up in a family of subsistence farmers in Trignano, Pedroni was the youngest of six brothers. He left Italy in 1881 after the death of his father. He moved first to France, then took the bold decision to board a steamship to America.

After disembarking in New York City, where he was registered as Felix Pedro, he found work as a labourer but, having heard about the gold in Alaska and was determined to get there. As soon as he had saved enough money, Pedroni moved on, first to Ohio, then Washington State, British Columbia and Yukon, each time taking a job and biding his time until he could afford to move on. He became an American citizen in 1888.

Fairbanks quickly developed as a city with the wealth  generated by the gold rush sparked by Pedroni's find
Fairbanks quickly developed as a city with the wealth
generated by the gold rush sparked by Pedroni's find
Once in Alaska, Pedroni panned for gold in the Fortymile, the Piledriver Slough and various other waterways, including the 'Lost Creek' in which Pedroni and his partner, Tom Gilmore, claimed to have found a sizable amount of gold in 1898, but were forced to abandon due to lack of food.
Despite marking the spot and searching for it for the next three years, they were unable to find it again.

It was while trying to locate the creek that they were drawn to the camp that would become Fairbanks after seeing plumes of smoke from a steamboat. They dropped down from the hills above the settlement, stocked up with supplies and returned to their search.

This time they did find gold, in the Tanana Hills, northeast of Fairbanks.

Pedroni died in July, 1910 at age 52 at St. Joseph's Hospital in Fairbanks - which by then had grown rapidly to be the largest city in Alaska - reportedly of a heart attack.

This was later disputed by business partner Vincenzo Gambiani, who suspected Pedroni's Irish wife, Mary Ellen Doran, of poisoning him.

The inscription on Felice Pedroni's simple grave in Fanano, the town near his birthplace in Emilia-Romagna
The inscription on Felice Pedroni's simple grave in Fanano,
the town near his birthplace in Emilia-Romagna
Pedroni had intended to marry an Italian girl and, in fact, returned to Italy in 1906 a wealthy man, in search of a bride. He thought he had found one in Egle Zanetti, a young teacher from Lizzano in Belvedere with whom he fell in love. She turned down his proposal, however, and returned to Alaska, heartbroken.

By contrast, Mary Doran was said to be a saloon girl of loose morals. Gambiani believed she killed Pedroni so that she might inherit his fortune.

Pedroni’s body was initially shipped to Colma, near San Francisco, to be buried, which is where it remained until October, 1972, when it was found, exhumed, and moved to Italy to be re-interred in Fanano. First, however, some hair samples were tested, the results of which reportedly supported the theory that Pedroni had been murdered.

Today, Pedroni is remembered in Alaska as one of the founding fathers of Fairbanks. In 1947, the Felice Pedroni Monument was erected on the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks, near what is still known as Pedro Creek. The annual Fairbanks Golden Days celebration always begins with a rededication of the monument.


The countryside of the Valle di Ospitale, close to Fanano in the Frignano regional park in Emilia-Romagna
The countryside of the Valle di Ospitale, close to Fanano
in the Frignano regional park in Emilia-Romagna
Travel tip:

Fanano is a town of some 2,500 inhabitants within the Regional Park of the Modenese High Apennines, otherwise known as the Frignano regional park, a rich and colourful natural area of lakes and mountains maintained for the growth and preservation of rare species, animals and plants. The park covers 15 thousand hectares, rising to a height of 2,165 metres (7,100 feet) at the summit of Monte Cimone. Among the several rare species to be found in the park are Alpine Marmots and Apennine Wolves. The area is popular for mountain biking, trekking and orienteering, and snow tracking in the winter. Fanano itself is close to the lakes of Scaffaiolo and Pratignano and the Passo della Croce Arcana, an alpine pass at 1,669m (5,475ft) between outlying areas of Fanano and Cutigliano.

The Ducal Palace in Modena, which dates back to 1635, was once the most sumptuous palace in Europe
The Ducal Palace in Modena, which dates back to 1635, was
once the most sumptuous palace in Europe
Travel tip:

Fanano is just over 60km (37 miles) from the city of Modena, which is well known for a variety of reasons, as a centre of the car industry - Ferrari, De Tomaso, Lamborghini, Pagani and Maserati all have connections with the city - the home of balsamic vinegar, and the birthplace of the great tenor, Luciano Pavarotti. One of the main sights in Modena is the huge, baroque Ducal Palace, which was begun by Francesco I d’Este, Duke of Modena, on the site of a former castle in 1635. His architect, Luigi Bartolomeo Avanzini, created a home for him that few European princes could match at the time. The palace is now home to the Italian national military academy. In the Galleria Estense, on the upper floor of the Palazzo dei Musei in Modena, there is a  one-metre high bust of Francesco by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

More reading:

The Italian origins of San Francisco's Ghirardelli Chocolate Company

How Gaetano Merola founded the San Francisco Opera

Carlo Camillo di Rudio - the Italian aristocrat who fought in the Battle of Little Bighorn

Also on this day:

1118: The death of Adelaide del Vasto, Countess of Sicily

1839: The birth of politician Antonio Di Rudini, twice Italy's prime minister

1881: The birth of magazine artist Fortunino Matania


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21 February 2018

Domenico Ghirardelli – chocolatier

Built famous US business with skills learned in Genoa


The chocolatier Domenico Ghirardelli, founder of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company in San Francisco, was born on this day in 1817 in a village just outside Rapallo in Liguria.

The Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop in Ghirardelli Square on San Francisco's northern waterfront
The Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop in Ghirardelli Square
on San Francisco's northern waterfront
Also known as Domingo, Ghirardelli arrived in San Francisco in 1849 during the rapid expansion years of the Gold Rush, having spent the previous 10 years or so in Peru, where he had run a successful confectionery business.

After making money as a merchant, initially ferrying supplies to prospectors in the gold fields, he set up his first chocolate factory in 1852, drawing on the skills he acquired as an apprentice in Genoa.

By the end of the century, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company was one of the city’s most successful businesses, with a prestige headquarters on North Point Street, a short distance from Fisherman’s Wharf, in a group of buildings that became known as Ghirardelli Square.

The son of a spice importer, Ghirardelli was born in the village of Santa Anna, just outside Rapallo, about 25km (16 miles) along the Ligurian coast from Genoa, in the direction of La Spezia to the southeast.

His father wanted him to have a trade and once he had reached his teens sent him to be an apprentice at Romanengo’s, an important confectioner in Genoa, with a view to setting himself up in business.

Domenico Ghirardelli arrived in San Francisco from Peru in 1849
Domenico Ghirardelli arrived in San
Francisco from Peru in 1849
However, having been forced to give up its status as an independent republic and become part of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia as part of the settlement following the Napoleonic Wars, Genoa was a volatile city prone to riots and to brutal repression by the military and in 1837 Ghirardelli decided, in common with many Italians, to leave in search of a better life in the New World.

At the age of only 20 and newly married, he arrived first in Montevideo in Uruguay, moving on a year later to Lima in Peru, a prosperous city where there was already an established Italian community.

He set up a confectionery shop on Calle de los Mercaderes, the city’s main shopping street, which he modelled on Romanengo’s store in Genoa.  After the death of his wife, he married for a second time, to a Peruvian widow, and would have stayed in Lima had his former neighbour, an American from Pennsylvania who had moved to San Francisco, not written to him urging him to follow.

The neighbour, James Lick, who would go on to become the richest man in California, had set himself up on the proceeds of 600lb (272kg) of chocolate Ghirardelli had given him to sell. With San Francisco on the brink of an economic boom after the discovery of gold in 1848, it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Trading first in general merchandise, Ghirardelli rapidly expanded from running a delivery service to owning grocery stores in San Francisco and Stockton, plus a soda fountain, a coffee house and a part-interest in a hotel.  Within two years, he had amassed wealth of $25,000, which then had the buying power of around $750,000 (€610,000) today.

The Ghirardelli factory was established just back from the San Francisco waterfront
The Ghirardelli factory was established just back from
the San Francisco waterfront
He opened his first chocolate factory in 1852 in the Verandah Building on Portsmouth Square, living above the premises, before moving to Jackson Street, building a separate family home in Oakland.  The business grew even more after the accidental discovery of cocoa powder, the result of some bags of chocolate paste being left unattended in a warm room.

The butterfat in the paste melted, dripping out on to the floor, leaving behind in the bags a greaseless residue that could be ground into a powder, which Ghirardelli patented and sold under the name of Broma, to be used as a cake ingredient or for making a hot cocoa drink.

The recession of the 1870s brought a massive scaling back, with many of the company’s assets, including the house in Oakland and several stores, being auctioned off to keep the factory going.

Yet, despite competition from others keen to exploit chocolate’s continuing popularity, the business recovered, with Ghirardelli’s sons increasingly involved.  Broma, rebranded as Ghirardelli’s Chocolate Powder, continued to be a big seller.  By the late 1880s, the company was producing and selling one million pounds (453,000kg) of the powder each year.

Ghirardelli retired in 1889, handing control to his sons.  In 1892, needing to expand, the company acquired a large woollen mill near the city’s northern waterfront at what his now Ghirardelli Square.

He died in 1894, contracting influenza during an extended visit to Rapallo, where he had gone in order to rediscover his roots. His body was returned to San Francisco, to be buried in the family mausoleum in Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery.

Production continued at Ghirardelli Square until the 1960s, when the business was sold and the manufacturing operation moved to San Leandro.  Today, while still trading under the family name as the third oldest chocolate manufacturer in the United States, the business is a subsidiary of the Swiss company, Lindt and Spr√ľngli. There is still a Ghirardelli shop in the Ghirardelli Square shopping and restaurant complex

A quaint 16th century castle guards Rapallo's harbour
A quaint 16th century castle guards Rapallo's harbour
Travel tip:

Rapallo, larger and a little cheaper than its exclusive neighbour Portofino, is an attractive seaside town of the eastern Italian Riviera, known as the Riviera di Levante. The town developed around a harbour guarded by a small castle – Il Castello sul Mare – built in 1551, which sits right on the water’s edge.  Behind the harbour is a network of narrow streets. There are boat service to Portofino, as well as Santa Margherita Ligure and Camogli, while the main Genoa to Pisa railway line passes through the town.

The ornate interior of the Romanengo store in Genoa
The ornate interior of the Romanengo store in Genoa
Travel tip:

Romanengo’s confectionery store in Via Soziglia in Genoa has become a tourist attraction in itself, a wonderfully ornate emporium barely changed since it was refurbished lavishly in the mid-19th century, having opened for business for the first time in 1814.  Modelled on Parisian confectioners’ shops, it has a marble floor, a frescoed ceiling, elegant chandeliers and beautiful inlaid rosewood shelving and counters, with endless dishes of brightly coloured confectionery in glass cases. The company logo of a dove carrying an olive branch symbolised peace at the end of the Napoleonic Wars.


More reading:

Michele Ferrero - the man who invented Nutella

Humble beginnings of chocolate giant Ferrero

The entrepreneur behind Perugina chocolates

Also on this day:

1513: Death of Pope Julius II


(Picture credits: Ghirardelli store by PictorialEvidence; San Francisco waterfront by Saopaulo1; Rapallo Castle by RegentsPark; all via Wikimedia Commons; Romanengo store from www.romanengo.com