MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina

Ambrogio Bernasconi

The entrepreneurial training and the establishment of the business

During the last years of the nineteenth century, Ambrogio Bernasconi, still a teenager, worked at the company Lana di Gallarate, which was specialized in the production of horn mouthpieces for pipes. Prior to the outbreak of World War I, after having gained extensive experience in processing horn, Ambrogio Bernasconi started his own pipe and cigarette mouthpiece manufacturing business with two partners on via Garibaldi in Crenna di Gallarate.

After the war, with the help of his wife, Enrichetta Rovizzoli, Bernasconi liquidated his partners and continued running the business under family management.

In addition to smoking accessories, the enterprise also manufactured horn bicycle and umbrella handles, using the same materials and the same processing techniques that has been acquired for the production of mouthpieces.

The horn, in fact, was purchased whole and then divided into three cuts: the tip, for pipe mouthpieces, the intermediate portion for bicycle and umbrella handles, and the end portion, which was resold to comb manufacturers. In 1925, Ambrogio's eldest son, Isidoro Bernasconi, joined the family business, followed by his second son, Enrico Carlo, in 1930, who assumed an active role in the enterprise and later helped to transform it into a de facto company.

The arrival of Bernasconi's children within the company marked a change in its production: articles for smokers and bicycle handles were abandoned in order to focus the company's efforts on umbrella accessories (including umbrella handles, shafts and tips).

This decision was based on the desire to focus on more profitable production items and to develop them by making use of other materials, such as wood and leather. The expertise of Enrico Carlo Bernasconi, who had previously worked at the Marelli di Gallarate shoe factory, was also a determining factor in this transformation.

Around the year 1930, the company took over the premises formerly occupied by a carpenter's workshop and moved to its current location, which underwent several renovations and expansions over the following years.


From 1935 to 1960

During the late 1930s, Isidoro and Enrico Carlo Bernasconi assumed control of the company alongside their father Ambrogio. With the onset of the Second World War, however, the brothers were forced to perform military service, which kept them away from the company until the end of the war itself.

In 1949, the family business was inherited by the new company "Ambrogio Bernasconi di Bernasconi Isidoro e Bernasconi Enrico Carlo & c. Sas", which placed Ambrogio Bernasconi as the general partner and his two sons as limited partners. Isidoro was in charge of the company's production and sales, while Enrico Carlo handled the renewal of the product line, with the creation of new models.

The company expanded throughout the 1950s and, with the advent of plastic, went on to purchase new production machinery. Unique in its sector, the company equipped itself with a mechanical workshop and hired an in-house toolmaker. This allowed for rapid and much less expensive mould manufacturing for the production of new models, without having to depend on outside suppliers, and at the same time provided for immediate and ongoing machinery maintenance. The number of workers simultaneously increased to reach a total of nearly 50. The company's expansion was mainly made possible by exporting the products to the United States, a process that had already begun during the war and was successful in cancelling out the negative aspects of manufacturing a typically seasonal item, such as the umbrella. The delivery times, given the distance of the American market, forced customers to order in the springtime, thereby allowing the company to work at full capacity even during the summer. Moreover, the profits deriving from exports allowed the company, which was nevertheless subject to a seasonal cycle, to operate continuously throughout the course of the year, offering significant advantages for employment. Sales within the United States involved the creation of a specific sample collection by an American representative, different than that of the European market, which had been created by the two brothers. During the 1950s, Ambrogio Bernasconi and the families of his two children moved into a house adjacent to the factory.


From 1961 to 1989

In 1961, the two Bernasconi brothers both became general partners, thus officially sanctioning the retirement of their father Ambrogio. The 1960s were marked by significant exports to the United States, approximately 60% of the company's production, and also saw the active presence of the Bernasconi family's third generation within the company: Isidoro's sons, Ambrogio and Francesco, and Enrico Carlo's sons, Umberto and Sergio.

Francesco Bernasconi, who had been working full-time at the company since 1969, was entrusted by his father to take care of the company's sales, above all relations with foreign markets. A few years later, Umberto Bernasconi, son of Enrico Carlo, was placed in charge of the company's book keeping.

Meanwhile, the purchase of direct injection machines resulted in a substantial increase in the number of pieces produced. As a result, the company expanded to include a new production facility and all of the 1970s proved to be years of enormous success. Upon Ambrogio Bernasconi's death in 1974, the company officially welcomed the arrival of the family's third generation.

The process of expanding the company ceased around the mid-eighties, when Bernasconi lost the American market and replaced it with new European markets, for which a network of representatives was created.

Sales in France, England and Spain, with product lines dedicated to each individual country, were able to fully compensate for the loss of U.S. market. The percentage of exported production therefore remained high.

In 1988, the need to find additional means of profit led to the establishment of a shop upon the company premises – for the sale of umbrellas, walking sticks and small leather items – as well as the expansion of the business activities to include clothing, a path which was not however pursued at length.


From 1990 to the present

From 1990 to about 1994, the company underwent nearly four consecutive years of severe crisis due to competition of behalf of the Chinese, to whom the majority of the European customers turned, attracted by lower supply costs. In particular, many European companies that manufactured metallic umbrella frames disappeared, forcing Bernasconi, amongst other companies in the industry, to purchase all of their metallic components from Chinese manufacturers in order to avoid going out of business.

In 1994, following the withdrawal of the brothers Isidoro and Enrico Carlo, the company became "Ambrogio Bernasconi srl": Francesco became president and managing director, while Isidoro, Enrico, Umberto, Sergio, and Ambrogio assumed the roles of advisers.

The decrease in production was accompanied by a reduction in the workforce, which was carried out with no serious problems thanks to the withdrawal of a number of workers who had reached pensionable age. The company's production focused on walking sticks and high-end products, for which the necessary quality and technical difficulty of certain processing techniques had no foreign competition.

From the late 1990s onward, the company became actively involved in the orthopaedics sector, with a production line dedicated to canes and walking sticks. This production focus allowed the company to assert itself to industry trade fairs and customers with a finished and non-seasonal product.

The increase in the number of customers, combined with the complete coverage of the Italian market by the company's agents, ensured Bernasconi satisfactory turnovers that would even allow it to continue manufacturing for the umbrella sector: a sector that remains difficult due to the seasonality and unpredictability of the orders received, which are increasingly smaller and less consistent. Today the company counts 17 employees.