MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina

Pipe Brebbia


The Buzzi family and the establishment of the Brebbia Power Station

The history of the Pipe Brebbia company is rooted in the entrepreneurial past of the Buzzi family itself, which began in 1893 when Achille Buzzi, originally from Gallarate, exploited the flow of the Bardello river (an outlet of Lake Varese) to build a power plant in the town of Brebbia, thus providing electrical energy to the area between Brebbia itself and Gavirate. Trained as a master builder, Achille also worked on the construction of the Sempione Tunnel. He married the daughter of an entrepreneur in the textile industry, Giuseppina Roncari, and the couple had one son: Carlo Andrea, known as Gino. Carlo went on to follow in the footsteps of his mother's family and became a textile expert, opening a weaving factory in Gavirate. He later married Lina Papa, with whom he went to live in a wealthy home in Gavirate. The couple had four children: Achille, Giuseppe (known as Peppino), Enea and Franca. When the depression of 1929 forced Gino out of business, the family moved into the rooms above the power station in Brebbia for a few years in order to be able to afford the rent on the apartment in Gavirate.

The opportunity to return to the textile industry came when Luigi Ronzoni offered Buzzi a position as director of the Besozzo Cotton Mill in return for a ten-year supply of electrical power. Carlo's son, Enea, was profoundly impacted by the depression of 1929. It was an experience that affected his character and led him to dedicate himself to financially supporting the family through his own contribution. He attended the De Filippi college in Arona, where he met a number of future artists, like painter Enrico Baj, writer Gianni Rodari and philologist Dante Isella. He later enrolled at the Daverio Institute in Varese and earned his accounting diploma in 1943. He join the Partisan Resistance with his brother Achille and attended the Bocconi University in Milan following the war. He decided to abandon his studies after a year, however, in order to look for work. He initially exploited his diploma in accountancy and found a job as a clerk working for Enel, but his desire to start his own business prevailed shortly after and he began selling used cars. Enea lived in a section of Gavirate in which the pipe manufacturing sector was particularly well-developed.

He was personally acquainted with some of the most successful companies, like that of the Rossi di Barasso family and that of Alberto Paronelli. In fact, it was precisely at a meeting with the latter that Enea came up with the idea of establishing a factory for the production of lidded-pipes, which could be smoked even in the rain. He ordered the machinery from Carlo Giudici in Oltrona, who delivered two years late as he gave precedence to the more well-established companies, but didn't have the necessary initial capital. The financial support to start the business was eventually provided by his mother's uncle, Bernardo Papa. Unmarried and childless, Bernardo went on to play a important role for the Buzzi family. Together with his cousin, Guido Bossi, he initially established Caffè Chantal in Milan, and later went on to become director of the Venice Casino, where Enea's brothers, Achille and Peppino, were later employed. He recognized the basic necessities for establishing a successful business: the power plant, which provided free energy, the entrepreneurial spirit of Enea, and a region that was renowned for its pipe manufacturing industry.

All this convinced him to invest in Enea's idea, as well as to include Achille Savinelli, an important dealer in tobacco-related products operating out of Milan, who had married his cousin, Dina. Savinelli was in charge of the business aspects, while Enea was in charge of production. The production department started out with three industry experts that had been brought in from other local companies, who were assigned specific tasks: roughing, turning and cleaning. The raw material was briarwood from Calabria, Sicily and the Maremma area of Tuscany, while the mouthpieces were made from ebonite. The clients even included local companies, like Rossi di Barasso itself.


The establishment and consolidation of the Pipe Brebbia company

Once the company had been started, a sales network need to be established. Disregarding the initial agreements, Savinelli asked Enea to address this issue himself. The target market was mainly comprised of Anglo-Saxon countries (such as England, its colonies and the United States), and London was the key city in which business contacts needed to be established. Although Enea only had an elementary knowledge of the English language, he nevertheless undertook a journey to the British capital, during which he acquired orders that would keep the company operating for the next five years. This experience, along with a desire to avoid asking his uncle Bernardo for additional money, led him to the realization that he could attempt the entrepreneurial path on his own. 1953 was a year of big decisions for Enea, who developed a different view of his partner's role in the future of the business: he therefore withdrew the shares owned by Achille Savinelli, granting him exclusive sales rights for the pipes produced in Brebbia for four years.

That same year, he married Mariantonia Sartorelli, who bore him three children: Luciano, Achille and Isabella. On January 17th 1954 the factory was nearly entirely destroyed by a fire, with the power plant on the ground floor being saved by pure chance. Enea reacted to the initial loss with a strong will and spirit. While the processing activities initially had to be adapted to the available space, thanks to the orders obtained by his sales representatives, particularly Bernard Hocsteinen in the United States, he succeeded in rebuilding the factory in just a year's time, redesigning the work areas based on the pipe processing sequence. During those years, the bulk of the company's orders came from the U.S. market, also thanks to the favourable opportunities offered by the Marshall Plan. With the company doing well, Enea invested in the production of pipes carved with animal figures, designed by artisans from the Val Gardena area. This insight would open up new markets thanks to direct contacts with a number of representatives, with whom the company would end up collaborating for several years, including Fellman, Runfeld, Lichtblau and Lieneman, each in different parts of the world.

During the same period, the company began experimenting with pipes with aluminium bases, designed to reduce the temperature of the smoke inhaled. In order to take on this challenge internally, Enea purchased the Pressocromo foundry in Besozzo in 1954 together with his uncle Renzo Papa. This initiative did not meet with much success and, after just two years, Enea purchased his uncle Renzo's shares, moved the machinery to a warehouse near the factory in Brebbia, and reconverted the foundry into a production base for electric motors, producing nearly 40,000 units per day. The business underwent significant development during the 1950s and 1960s and the number of employees (including both workers and representatives) rose to a total of nearly 90 individuals. This positive situation was also reflected in the company's promotional activities. Alongside the development of the MPB (Manufatture Pipe Brebbia) logo and various advertising campaigns in newspapers and magazines, the company also sponsored and organized “gare di lento fumo” (slow smoking races), which were an enormous success.

Pipe Brebbia's production manager, Franca Ferretti, won the title of world champion in 1971 by smoking 3 grams of tobacco in 2 hours and 47 minutes. Even the Terry Report of 1964, which exposed the damage caused by smoking did not affect Brebbia's success. In fact, those who quit smoking cigarettes often switched to pipe smoking, which at the time was considered harmless. Like for his uncle Bernardo, the family was an incubator of entrepreneurial strategies for Enea as well. His sister Franca married Paolo Valente, the owner of the company Faema, which was involved in the production of coffee machines. In 1967, together with his brother-in-law Paolo and two other partners, Renzo Papa and Benito Locatelli, Enea co-founded the company Sida, which was dedicated to the automated distribution of hot beverages throughout the province of Varese. During these years, Enea's entrepreneurial spirit also led him to try his luck as a builder and real estate developer, as well as to engage in various other areas: he joined the Province of Varese's Free Association of Industrial Businesses, was appointed president of the River Bardello Consortium, co-founded the Rotary Club of Verbano and was awarded the title of Knight of the Italian Republic.


The arrival of the second generation and the development of the market

A number of important changes took place within the family during the 1970s. Enea was separated and went to live with Franca Ferretti. His children, Luciano and Achille, respectively went to work alongside their father at the companies Manufatture Brebbia and Sida. His daughter, Isabella, on the other hand, never joined the family business and, after earning her psychology degree, went on to become president of the Italian Committee of family mediators. After high school, Achille immediately began working at Sida. Luciano, having earned his degree in architecture and having no experience with the various production stages, was charged with the task of revamping the sales network, and went on to reverse the practice of relying exclusively upon sales representatives on the foreign markets. It was Luciano, in fact, who travelled abroad to verify the market conditions on site, thus exploiting his knowledge of foreign languages. In these years the company underwent a reduction in its labour force, which was reduced to about 35 people.

In 1981, while maintaining his own shares in the company, Enea left the pipe factory to Luciano in order to dedicate himself to his other companies, Pressofusione and Sida. He didn't entirely abandon the company, however, as he continued to take part in its activities, but the decision-making powers were increasingly being placed in the hands of his son. The eighties and nineties were positive years thanks to the re-launching of the pipe's image, as it was favoured by a number of public figures, such as the President of the Italian Republic, Sandro Pertini, journalist Gianni Brera, and the coach of the Italy's world cup championship team, Enzo Bearzot. The use of the pipe was profoundly re-evaluated in the eyes of the public, going from a symbol of "cheap smoking", to a status symbol for the upper classes. The interest he had cultivated for his profession over the years led Enea to found the Pipe Museum in 1992, bringing pieces and collections from all over the world together in Brebbia, in a facility that was originally intended to be used as a pipe warehouse.

On the production side, mouthpieces in acrylic plexiglass were introduced alongside those in ebonite. While the former satisfy certain aesthetic requirements, ebonite, based on the model, has softer and more mouldable characteristics and is more suitable in terms of hygiene. In 1991, Achille died prematurely in a tragic hang gliding accident, leaving an enormous void in the Buzzi family. With the start of the new millennium, having lost the support of his son Achille, Enea first sold Pressofusione (in 2001) and later sold Sida as well (in 2005), preferring to dedicate himself entirely to the family real estate business through the company Cà Bella. In 2005, Enea rented out the warehouse and machinery to the former employees of the company Pressofusione, giving them the opportunity to restart the business after it went bankrupt following its sale in 2001. As far as the pipe business was concerned, Luciano found himself facing a difficult period following the issuance of a law in 2005 that prohibited smoking in public places. The decreased sales even led to a reduction in personnel, and the company currently employs just seven individuals in the administration and production departments.

Luciano Buzzi also noted the change in people's habits that made it possible to reverse the trend of pipe tobacco and cigarette consumption.Today, the pipe smoker's different approach and the globalization of the markets - which has even brought pipe production to countries with lower labour costs than Italy - have led Pipe Brebbia to look for new ways of dealing with these difficulties: for example, the company is attempting to establish a new balance between the domestic and foreign markets, mainly focusing its efforts upon the emerging markets and Eastern Europe, while at the same time concentrating upon specific products for a niche market, in which the design of the product even meets the demands of collectors.The company is also investing in the business of products for smokers, proposing the direct sale of Brebbia brand pipes out of local tobacco shops to pipe enthusiasts attracted by the possibility of visiting the Museum. Although the company is producing higher quality pipes than in the past, they are being produced in lesser quantities and are more costly: this is also due to the fact that their processing requires a form of skilled craftsmanship that has not been able to be replaced by the technological innovations enjoyed over the years by other sectors.