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MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina

Società generale per l’industria della magnesia spa

From 1900 to 1945

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Carlo Luigi Rodolfo, a native of Turin, worked in the mining industry in the quarries surrounding Lake Maggiore. Following an initial experience in Arona, Carlo decided to begin his own business in Angera harvesting a new dolomite quarry in order to produce gravel for roadbeds, and went on to build two kilns for the production of dolomitic lime in the year 1900. During these years, the hilly area along the banks of Lake Maggiore was conducive to the development of mining activities for the production of lime, resulting in the construction of numerous kilns. In 1905, Carlo Luigi's son, Emilio, who had graduated from the Polytechnic University of Milan in 1899, took over the family business and four years later, along with a university classmate, Engineer Giuseppe Rossetti, established the limited partnership "Società italiana per la produzione del carbonato e dei coibenti di magnesia, ingegneri Rodolfo, Rossetti & C." (the Italian Company for the production of carbonate and magnesia insulation) in Milan, with a company capital of 100,000 lire.
Rodolfo and Rossetti assumed roles as managers, while the limited partners were De Cristoforis and Canetti. After a few years, the management of the facility was entrusted to the Emilio's brother, Italo.
The company's activities were carried out in Angera, near the dolomite quarry from which the raw material was obtained for the production of magnesium products. The company had 20 employees at the time of its establishment. In 1910, the company name was changed to "Società generale per l'industria della magnesia ingegneri Rodolfo e Rossetti & c.". Over the next few years, slight adjustments were made to the shares owned by the various members of the Rodolfo family.
It was at this time that the company began purchasing raw materials - dolomitic lime and carbon dioxide - from the kilns that Emilio had taken over from his father's company ("Ing. E. Rodolfo). The English Pattinson process was used to produce basic magnesium carbonates suitable for incorporating large amounts of air, thus increasing the thermal insulation properties (asbestos was used as a binder).
During the 1920s, the company also began producing calcium carbonate, initially purchasing the lime as a raw material and subsequently carrying out the calcination process at its own production facilities.
In 1928, Italo resigned his post as plant manager and the share capital was divided between Emilio and his wife Carla Prinetti.
The company underwent significant development during this period. During the 1930s, Emilio Rodolfo patented a number of processes for the production of heavy magnesium hydroxides and oxides for the pharmaceutical industry. In these years, the production activities (from the quarrying to the production of calcium and magnesium salts) required a large workforce, some 250 people. The company recruited personnel from the surrounding area, who used their work at the production facility to supplement their farm work. The mineral mining and processing operations did not require any special qualifications and once the workers became more experienced with the machinery they were lured away by the better salaries offered by the local engineering companies.

From 1946 to 1989

Even after the end of World War II, the company maintained a strong territorial aspect; the staff was recruited from Angera or from other surrounding towns and supplemented their factory activities with the management of small plots of land. The company's rhythms often found ways of reconciling themselves with the local agricultural work cycles and this flexibility enhanced the workers' sense of belonging in relation to the Magnesia industry.
Emilio Rodolfo passed away in 1948. As he had no male heirs, Emilio had considered the possibility of selling the company. This, however, did not take place and the company remained under his family's control: in fact, the business activities were carried forward by his daughters Lorenza Rodolfo-Belloni and Stefania Rodolfo-Valerio. Shortly after, Stefania's son, Marco Giulio, acquired the shares held by his mother and his aunt Lorenza and took charge of the company. The company's name was changed to "Società generale per l'industria della magnesia ' Ing. Rodolfo & C. di Valerio Marco Giulio ' sas."
During the 1950s, the company also began selling a magnesia laxative, under the brand name of Angelica, directly to a number of pharmacies. This endeavour, however, was short lived and the company opted to return to the production of the active ingredient, magnesium hydroxide, for the companies that were already well established within the industry.
Marco Giulio, along with his wife Luisa Cederna, led the company up until 1962, when he was killed in an automobile accident. The company structure changed once again: the shares were now divided amongst Luisa, her daughter Giulia and Waradsin, a chemical company based in Liechtenstein.
The Cederna family's presence within the company's administrative management, however, continued to increase during these years: in 1963, Luisa's cousin, Enrico Cederna, was appointed as the company's legal representative and general manager, while Giulia Valerio assumed the role of sales manager. The management of the production facility, on the other hand, was entrusted to technicians outside of the family, who generally took on roles as legal representatives. In 1976, the company's registered offices were transferred from Milan to Angera on via S. Martino, although the sales and accounting offices remained in Milan. Two years later, the company was transformed into a joint stock company, which it remains to this day, and the Cederna-Valerio family continued to increase its share capital. Enrico Cederna assumed the positions of managing director and general manager.
The company underwent major developments during the 1970s and 1980s with the renovation of its production facilities, due to the implementation of the new regulations that had come into effect with the Merli Law of 1976, as well as the legislation regarding energy savings. Significant research was dedicated to the development and marketing of new types of calcium carbonates, especially ultra-fine coated products.

From 1990 to the present

During the early 1990s, the multinational Belgian company Solvay, which was active in the calcium carbonate production industry throughout France, Austria and Germany, was considering the possibility of extending its sphere of influence to southern Europe. This interest on behalf of Solvay, which was already familiar with the Angera based company due to past collaboration efforts, happened to coincide with a period in which the Valerio family's presence was steadily decreasing, especially following the financial strain of the seventies and eighties. Luisa and her daughter, Valeria, decided to fully divest their shares and the company became part of the Solvay group.
This interaction with the new multinational company led the Varese enterprise to reformulate its operating methods with respect to its organization, production and research activities. The internal organization now had to meet the standards required by a group that was operating on an international level. A new program was launched in order to upgrade the personnel management and employee training procedures. This new more modern concept of enterprise also gave rise to an environmental rehabilitation program for the areas exploited by the company, which was introduced by the new owners.
The company's production processes were also affected by this change: with the development and patenting of a new process for the production of lightweight magnesium salts, dolomite consumption was drastically reduced (which, by 1971, was no longer mined in Angera, but was rather purchased), as were the byproducts and waste produced for the agricultural industry. The calcium and magnesium salts produced are used in the fields of pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, foodstuffs, animal feed, plastic and rubber materials, paints and varnishes and even paper.
Its multinational dimension provides the company with the economic resources necessary in order to develop its research into new production processes, including its more recent research in the field of nanoparticles. Unlike other companies in the group, however, the Italian company has maintained the characteristics that it has acquired over time, which can be recognized, for example, in its greater flexibility, its integration with the territory and the strong bonds that it has established with its workers. It is even by virtue of these factors that Solvay has selected Angera to host its Strategic Business Unit's international headquarters for the research, production and marketing of precipitated calcium carbonate, with special focus being placed on patent issues for both research and applicative purposes.