MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina

Bigliardi Lupo

Billiards from the South of Italy

Luigi Lupo was born in Taranto in 1881 and developed a passion for woodworking at a young age. He emigrated to the North at the end of the 19th century, where he found accommodations at a boarding school in Casbeno and worked as a machinist for Fratelli Macchi, the forerunners of Aermacchi. He later married Annetta Gandini, with whom went to live in Corso Matteotti and went on to have three children: Francesco (born in 1923), Pietro (born in 1928) e Teresa. Eager to start his own business as a carpenter and cabinetmaker, Luigi Lupo opened a carpentry workshop in Varese’s Piazza Giovine Italia, which was enrolled as a sole proprietorship company with the local Chamber of Commerce of 1929. Following the advice of a relative from Como, who owned a business in Taranto, Luigi eventually went on to specialize in the production of billiard tables.
The gaming platforms were comprised of raw slabs of slate from Liguria, which were processed by the billiard table manufacturer himself. While the workshop produced solid wood cues and other accessories, the company also turned ivory balls, which were subject to wear and were eventually replaced by elements made from synthetic resin.
The game of billiards, which boasts ancient origins and was originally reserved for the wealthy and noble classes, has now become a common pass time amongst the working classes of the world, and can regularly be found in a large number of public locales. Luigi thus faced favourable market competition and, in 1938, moved his company and family to no. 1 via Vetera, with the shop downstairs and the residence upstairs. Luigi sadly passed away three years later, in 1941, leaving the company to his children, who were still too young to take on its management.

Table tennis and table football

After his father’s death, young Francesco Lupo, who had studied technical drawing, worked at a Milan-based billiards company for a number of years, thus acquiring the necessary experience and professionalism. After being drafted into the army during the Second World War, he was interned in Switzerland where he met Aldo Simonis, a Milan-based merchant operating in the field of table tennis and full-court tennis items.
After the war, while his brother Pietro was employed elsewhere, Francesco returned to the business and, in 1947, established a sole proprietorship company known as “Bigliardi Lupo”. Alongside its original billiards tables, the company also began manufacturing table tennis tables on behalf of Aldo Simonis’s company, which it marketed under its own brand name. With the arrival of the 1950s, Francesco Lupo’s company became one of Italy’s first to manufacture a new gaming table that was on the rise: “table football” (sometimes called “foosball” or “gitoni”), the industrial production of which had already been established in France by the Marseilles-based manufacturer Marcel Zosso.
Francesco created the wooden blue and red figures using the lathe, later to be replaced by plastic ones.
Meanwhile, his wife, Elisa Battaini, gave birth to four children: Annamaria in 1951, Luigi, who bore his grandfather’s name, in 1955, and the twins Valeria and Ersilia in 1963, both of whom went on to become teachers.
Pietro Lupo eventually decided to become actively involved in his brother’s company – which was transformed into a de facto company in 1960 – taking charge of the sales aspects. The workshop had a dozen employees involved in the various processing activities, including turning, painting and the construction of the various wooden and metallic structures. A number of women were placed in charge of finishing the cue sticks and rackets, as well as sewing the edges of the small table tennis nets. This latter operation was even carried out by Francesco’s wife herself.

From business to sports: the expansion years

The first half of the 1960s was rife with new endeavours for the Lupo company which, requiring additional operating space, established itself as a general partnership in 1963 and transferred its production activities to a new building in the Gurone fraction of Malnate.
This area of ??open countryside was well known to the Lupo family as it was the birthplace of Francesco’s wife.
Here the company began manufacturing custom doors, windows and furniture, for which they hired two new carpenters and began collaborating with various architects.
The company’s legal and administrative headquarters, however, remained on Varese’s via Vetera, as did the family home.
When the Simonis’s company went out of business, the Lupo brothers decided to continue distributing their table tennis tables on their own, including an innovative, through unpatented, model on wheels invented by Francesco.
This gave rise to the registered trademark “Lupo sport”: a trademark that would be borne by the company’s products dedicated to a specific domestic clientele, mainly comprised of public institutions, social clubs, sports clubs and specialty shops.
Thanks to a widespread demand, the company went on to enjoy significant growth, above all in the fields of table football and table tennis, which became an official sport in the year 1960. Their products were marketed throughout the nation by representatives of various companies in Northern, Central and Southern Italy.
In 1972, the company even obtained a commercial license for the sale of sporting goods and equipment, for which the “showcase” in via Vetera proved to be instrumental.
Due to its limited nature, the production of billiard tables remained stable, while that of billiard cues eventually ceased.
That same year Lupo Sport sponsored the table tennis challenge between China and Italy, which was held at Milan’s Palalido stadium.
Francesco Lupo was one of the founders and main sponsors of the Varese table tennis club, initially known as Tennis Tavolo Varese Luposport (“Luposport Varese Table Tennis”), for which he initially served as president upon its establishment in 1972.
During these same years, using a local importer, the company exported large numbers of table tennis tables to Arab countries, as well as to Canada, Germany and Australia, although to a lesser extent.
Bigliardi Lupo regularly participated at specialized trade fairs, such as Mias, and became the official supplier of the Italian Table Tennis Federation in 1977.
By this time the workshop had become a “small factory”, employing more than thirty workers in the early 1970s (a figure which later decreased to around twenty).
After obtaining his middle school diploma, Luigi Lupo joined his father’s company and gradually became passionate about his trade. His sister, Anna Maria, who was employed as an accountant for an insurance agency, lent a hand for accounting purposes. Even Francesco’s father in law, Rino Battaini, lent a hand, although he sadly passed away in 1980.

A progressively small company

In 1983, Luigi Lupo married Antonella Bianchi, who had been employed at the workshop for a number of years, and the company, in the meantime, ceased its furniture production. The gradual elimination of billiards and table football from public facilities, combined with the decreased demand for table tennis, led to a general reduction in the company’s production activities. In 1987, in fact, the official company purpose was changed from the “manufacture” to “the production of and wholesale and retail trade in” the same items. In 1993, the gradually decreasing need for traditional craftsmanship resulted in the cancellation of “Bigliardi Lupo” from the small business register. The company currently counts a total of approximately 12 employees.
Pietro Lupo, who had no longer been active in the company for some time due to illness, passed away in 1993. His children, Paola and Renato, ceded their shares in the company’s legacy to Luigi and Anna Maria Lupo.
The capital contributed by the latter was a decisive factor in liquidating the cousins, thus allowing the company to overcome the difficulties that it was facing at the time. This gave rise to the company “Bigliardi Lupo sas di Lupo Luigi & C.”, in which Francesco and Luigi assumed the roles of general partners, with Anna Maria Lupo as a limited partner. In 1995, Francesco Lupo donated a portion of his shares to his son Luigi, who thus also became a limited partner. At this point the company ceased its sales activities out of its registered offices and gradually stopped participating in the industry trade fairs.
At the end of the 1990s, “Bigliardi Lupo” terminated its supply relationship with the Italian Table Tennis Federation and reduced its commitments in relation to the Varese amateur table tennis association, although it continued to sponsor various initiatives under the brand name Lupo sport. Luigi Lupo’s wife went on to find work outside the company.
At the turn of the millennium, the market showed a significant decline, with traditional games made of wood materials being replaced by electronic games.

By this time, despite its constant dedication to product quality, for which only the highest quality materials were employed, the Lupo company had very few employees and mainly catered to a local clientele (including various bars, clubs and wholesalers). In order to avoid succumbing to competition from China, the company manufactured more expensive table tennis tables of larger dimensions, as well as units that were specifically designed for use by disadvantaged (blind) players or in outdoor environments. It went on to expand its billiards and carom billiards maintenance services, which it continued to produce in solid wood. Today, the workshop is only manned by Luigi and a single employee, with Luigi’s two sons still being devoted to their studies: one is enrolled with the faculty of architecture, while the other is attending the technical institute for surveyors.
The lush countryside that once surrounded the company’s premises has now been replaced by an entire residential neighbourhood.