MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina

Fratelli Buzzetti

In the land of scales makers

Giovanni Buzzetti was born in Jerago con Orago in 1881. As often happened in those times, he left school early, stopping at the primary school "license". He then began work as an apprentice at a Gallarate company with which he shared a surname: "Buzzetti pesi e misure". With the development of exchange and commerce, the area between Gallarate, Cavaria and Oggiona became kind of centre of excellence specialised in the production, sale and export of scales. In 1886 Italiana Macchi was founded in Oggiona con Santo Stefano, a historic business in its industry and still active today. On completing his apprenticeship, Giovanni Buzzetti decided to open his own business. In 1908, he opened his own company, F.lli Buzzetti, which sold measuring instruments, with the Jerago-Orago lab, and two years later opened a branch in Milan on Via Settala, managed together with his brother Mario, taking over a pre-existing business run by Giacomo Ferioli.

After the introduction of the decimal metric system in 1861, a series of royal decrees in the meantime saw to uniforming and regulating the manufacture of weights and measures in all of Italy.

During World War I, the Buzzetti company manufactured scales for the Italian army, as well as for its traditional clientele, comprising wholesalers and retailers. A significant part of production was also exported to Argentina. It produced common scales, for domestic and commercial use, and also special scales, such as scales for weighing children or precision scales for pharmacies. In 1923 the Buzzetti company won the gold prize at the International Expositions in Rome and Anversa.

In 1929, Giovanni withdrew from the business with his brother Mario, who continued it independently as a sole proprietor business until 1961, when he retired.

At the beginning of the 1930s, the business comprised between fifteen and twenty employees. The smith-craftsmen used anvils and hammers to forge the brass, brought to white heat in the forge, thus obtaining plates of various shapes and sizes. The case for the scale could be made of wood, embellished with intarsia for the luxury models, or marble for butcher's shops and delicatessens. The lab and family residence were on Via all'Autostrada in Jerago con Orago.


From a small business to a family microenterprise

In 1935 the company F.lli Buzzetti di Giovanni Buzzetti ceased activity and was then ceded, in 1937, to Guglielmo Buzzetti, born in 1914 and son of Giovanni, who in any case continued to work in the lab. The business kept its legal status as a sole proprietor business and took the new name "Buzzetti Guglielmo". After the damage wrought by World War II, the Milan "subsidiary" closed permanently.

The artisan lab in Jerago con Orago moved to nearby Varesina, where, in order to maintain physical continuity between home and business, the family moved as well.

Starting in the 1950s, Gugliemo took definitive control of the business and introduced new, more modern machinery, beginning to automate processes until then carried out exclusively by hand. For some operations, such as the weight test of machine-made pieces, he was assisted by his wife, Anna Simonetta.

Of the former 15 employees only two workers remained, who then left Buzzetti to work elsewhere. When Giovanni Buzzetti died in 1963, the employees in the shop were reduced to two: the owner and his wife. The reduction of the export of scales to Argentina was compensated, especially starting in the second half of the 1970s, by an increase in local and national clients, thanks to the reliability of the products and, being a business that had never invested in advertising, through the word of mouth from purchasing companies. In this period, the manufacture of mechanical scales combined with weights was still the main business interest for Buzzetti. To this was added the manufacture of "little bronzes", brass bearings, of weights (even 1 kilogram) used to check high capacity weights as well as counterweights used for conducting traction tests for certain machinery.

The increase of requests was met by bringing the owner's male sons, who had always had contact with their father's business, into an active role in the lab as assistants.

Giorgio, born in 1952, attended night school, worked for some years in a gear factory and then returned to the family business. Giovanni, born in 1960, attended mechanics school through the third year and, in 1979, after his military service, joined his brother and father in the running of the shop

Giorgio and Giovanni have two sisters, both of whom pursued different professional paths, although one of them, an employee at another company, helps out with the accounting.


The crisis of mechanical scales and the difficulties of the present day

The good dynamic of orders continued throughout the 1980s and led, in 1986, to the restructuring and expansion of the shop, the operational surface of which was doubled in size (from 150 to 300 square metres), allowing the more efficient arrangement and use of the machinery and equipment. The production system was by then completely automated, while the manual tasks were limited to just a few phases, including the filing and calibration of small, single gram pieces, which requires the patience and precision of a pharmacist.

To celebrate the company's 80th anniversary, a special scale was made, inspired by an old model from the 1920s, kept in a glass case in the shop. The latter would be at home in the collection of the Scale Museum in Campogalliano, in the province of Modena.

With the spread of electronic scales, which began to appear on the market in the early 1970s, the artisan manufacture of mechanical scales by the Buzzetti company, uninvolved in the new instrumentation, went into an inevitable and irreversible decline. In 1991, Guglielmo Buzzetti, by then elderly and with leg ailments, gave the entire business, the overall value of which was 150 million liras, to his sons Giorgio and Giovanni, who in turn conferred it to the newly-founded business "F.lli Buzzetti – snc di G. Buzzetti & C.".

Guglielmo's wife, now a grandmother, also withdrew from her activity in the shop, whereas Giovanni's wife, with a diploma in accountancy, was the company's sole employee, in the role of accountant. In the 2000s, increasingly sophisticated and digitalised weighing systems developed. Some historic Italian scales businesses (such as Omega and Suprema) became absorbed into multinationals.

The Buzzetti brothers also converted, to a certain degree, to electronic scales, but only as retailers, since their tradesman work was primarily concentrated on the manufacture of bronze pieces. These were stamped and numbered after the metric office check by the Chamber of Commerce, or by the laboratory recognised by it, which verified the public trust or the correspondence to European legal requirements.

In 2006, Guglielmo Buzzetti died. Giovanna continues to live in family home near the shop, together with her family and brother Giorgio, who never married and is now newly retired.

The crisis of recent years and the loss of long-standing clients is putting at risk a small business that has been open for more than one hundred years. The only person who can keep the business running, at least within the family circle, is Andrea, Giovanni's twenty-three-year-old son, with a diploma in computer science, whose first work experience was in his father's business.

In 2011, the business F.lli Buzzetti was added to the national register of historic businesses by Unioncamere on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Italian Unity.