PONT:
A FACTORY,
A TRADITION,
A MUSEUM



Ironbridge was the cradle of the first industrial revolution in 18th century England. Today with its old centuries’ old cast-iron bridge it has become an evocative museum of the beginnings of the industrial era. Pont Canavese, in many aspects of its history and its many manufacturing businesses connected to the nascent Italian industry, can be considered a small Italian Ironbridge. Another aspect of Pont that resembles Ironbridge is that it now has a museum of the archeology of the industrial era: the Sandretto collection includes hundreds of plastic artifacts. This museum, housed in the Sandretto factory, is the emblem of Pont’s history, an industrial town with many different activities, including copper smithies, iron wireworks, silk and cotton spinning and weaving, tanning and, last but not least, the mechanical industry for building plastic molding machines installed by the F.lli Sandretto company in 1971 in the buildings of the old factory. We are talking about nearly 300 years of labor history, the traces of which we can find on documents that still exist. We have the graphic representation of the old royal factory of Pont, the origins of which date back to the 18th century, at the dawn of the nascent industry in Northern Italy. A map from 1761 illustrates in very fine detail, like a plate from Diderot’s Encyclopédie, the group of buildings settled on the right bank of the Soana torrent, with the characteristics of a real village. At the end of the 18th century two brothers, Gaetano and Candido Faletti of Champigny ran a mill and a copper mill at Pont driven by the force of water. Productive conversion and reorganization are apparently not only a thing of our times because the Faletti brothers at one point decided to transform their business into a silk reeling factory which in 1824 was passed onto the Duport family who already owned a cotton mill at Annecy, in Savoy. They kept it for merely fifteen years, but that was enough time for them to give it an industrial style. In fact in 1833, on the occasion of a trip by Maria Cristina of Bourbon to Piedmont, the factory of Pont was chosen for a visit by the Queen who arrived accompanied by the dukes of Savoy and Genoa and showed interest in the production of cotton cloths. After 1839 the factory, which was purchased by the Leuffer family, was further boosted and the quality of its production is proven by a series of medals and certificates earned in 1846, 1850 and 1858 at one of those expositions so dear to the technological optimism of the Victorian age. The most famous one was held in London in 1851. In 1870 a new canal was built to operate the hydraulic turbines. At that time the cotton mill produced, on a continuous cycle, 1,500 kilos of yarn and 15,000 meters of fabric per day and employed 1,500 workers. In 1882 a new textiles factory was inaugurated on the bank of the Orco toward Cuorgnè with buildings and sheds similar to those of the factory of Pont, which can still be seen in the building technique manuals of that epoch. A series of surprise strikes which took place at the time of labor unrest, during the last few years of the century, induced the family to sell the complex of the two factories to Manifattura Mazzonis s.a.s. The labor demands continued for several months. Nonetheless 1913 was the golden year in which the Pont factory reached a historical record in its production, with 3,000 kilos per day of yarn and 20,000 meters of fabric. Its fabrics were sold in Italy, Turkey, Egypt and Latin America. It had 1,370 looms and 2,300 workers to run them. But the world-wide depression of 1929 dramatically affected Pont’s production and in 1932 the factory converted to the production of artificial fibers in response to the autarchic demands of that period. Then came the war and the post-war period. The technological and commercial changes that occurred in the world market of fibers during the 1960s forced the company to put a halt to its business and close its factory gates. The plants remained inactive for five years until, in 1977, in the historical buildings on the bank of the Soana, Sandretto inaugurated its business of building plastic injection presses.




PONT’S LEGACY

The royal factory of Pont is in the limelight of the map of towns that were the home of the nascent Italian industry during the last century. As is known, the map includes almost exclusively the northwestern areas of our country. Between the 18th and 19th centuries factories in Pont started to replace castles in the agricultural economy which in many ways was modeled after a feudal structure on this peninsula. The plan and architecture of the factory have kept that closed form of the fortified citadel (defined as fence architecture): it is a sort of modern "château de l’industrie" as some have observed, next to the old feudal manors of the Canavese region, which is today being rediscovered by tourists. This reflects the conditions that were still extremely backward in 19th century Italian society, at least one century behind the countries which started the industrial revolution, such as Great Britain and France. Around 1860, at the time of national unity, Italy still remained essentially outside of the manufacture and trade circuits of Europe. The economic situation was extremely fractured and diversified in spite of political unity. The resources were basically agricultural and the income level per capita was a fourth that of England and a third that of France. Two-thirds of the people were illiterate and only 400,000 of a population of 29 million were employed in industry. The railroads amounted to barely 2,000 kilometers as opposed to the 17,000 in England and 9,000 in France. The Alpine tunnels did not yet exist and the links to the rest of Europe were difficult and unsafe. In Pont and Cuorgnè, as in the entire northern region of Italy, the development of the textile industry depended on the availability of sources of hydraulic energy in the nearby mountains because the town was without the carbon resources that made wealth for England, Belgium and other nations. Electric energy was still a long time coming: the first Italian electrical power plant was built in 1889 at Porto d’Adda. Moreover, the choice of textiles manufacturing at Pont followed a specific logic linked to the agricultural structure of the town (silkworm and flax cultivation) which provided the raw materials. It did not seem to create serious fractures in the social structure because it could coexist, due to its labor force, with the sheep herding farming economy like that of the foothills. This is the legacy and environmental background in which Sandretto’s mechanics industry set up in 1971. And it has revived that very tradition.

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THE MAP
THE PLASTICS
THE MUSEUM
AND ITS' HISTORY
PONT:
THE TOWN
AND ITS HISTORY
PLASTIC
MATERIALS
SANDRETTO
INDUSTRIE