Ferrania is a hamlet in the Municipality of Cairo, situated in Val Bormida, within the Province of Savona, and here, in the twentieth century, there has been a massive increase in production activities in several sectors thanks to the wide areas and facilities as well as to direct connections with the port of Savona and northern Italy.
The field of industry that took root most is the steel industry, initially located in the Cengio area, where the S.I.P.E. plant (Società Italiana Prodotti Esplodenti) was built and then expanded in nearby Ferrania where, at the end of the nineteenth century, the production of explosive substances sold abroad got started, increased by the general European political climate in the period immediately prior to the outbreak of the First World War.
The end of the conflict led to the reconversion of industrial production, choosing to continue in the field of sensitive products, or films, which began to be in demand on the market; S.I.P.E. decided to make agreements with Pathé Frères, a French company of sensitive products that was already well established, and which provided some solid consultancy for the conversion of existing plants and, by mutual agreement, a new company was created: F.I.L.M. (Fabbrica Italiana Lamine Milano) with registered office in Milan, and operating in Ferrania.
After six years the first film was presented and put on the market, but the low demand during that period did not allow sales to take off and, as a direct consequence, Pathé decided to transfer its shareholding to Credito Italiano, a bank managed by I.R.I. (Istituto Ricostruzione Industriale), a state body based in Rome. Through a business reorganization plan, the product range was diversified, by adding radiographic and cinematographic films, thus opening to wider markets_..
In the early Thirties there was a need to sell also photographic products with the aim of increasing revenues and this decision led the company to enter into financial agreements with the renowned Milanese company Cappelli, manufacturer of photographic plates; F.I.L.M. and Cappelli carried out a corporate merger with the creation of the Cappelli-Ferrania and the beginning of a further manufacturing and marketing of products on the market.
After a few years, the company name evolved into Ferrania S.p.A. with the consequent renewal of its internal structure: the public entity I.R.I. was replaced by I.F.I.. a private company run by the Agnelli family which, under the pressure of the current autarchic political period in Italy, strengthened the general industrial program by focusing on constant innovation and on machinery and products research, culminating with the first studies on colour photographic and cinematographic films, thanks to the help of the German company Agfa, which had already explored this new sector. Thanks to Agfa’s advice, the creation of colour sensitive products landed in Ferraria, however the historical moment was difficult because of the outbreak of the Second World War and, as a result, the production was stopped for a few years.
In the aftermath of the Liberation there was a gradual recovery of the national economy and, also at Ferrania, the activity of production and research was carried on; thanks to a real relaunch plan generated by the commercialization of Ferraniacolor, the only colour sensitive material to be manufactured in Europe in the early post-war period, the foundations were laid for what will become its flagship product in the following years. At the same time, the great season of Italian cinema, shot on Ferraniacolor, took root and it culminated with some masterpieces such as “Ladri di Biciclette” (Bicycle Thieves) by De Sica, “Otto e mezzo” (Eight and a Half) by Fellini, “Accattone” (Beggar) by Pasolini.
We got into the Sixties, the decade in which the economy reached its greatest momentum, also thanks to the opening of sales channels within the global markets; Ferrania won its record by becoming, together with Kodak, Fuji, Agfa, one of the only four plants in the world where colour films for cinema and photography were produced. This milestone, quite significant for the small hamlet near Savona where the company was located, did not go unnoticed and it caught 3M’s attention, an American multinational company which was trying to expand its sales field into the photographic sector, with a view to European expansion. Once Ferrania was spotted, they decided to buy the share package hitherto owned by I.F.I. which now went to the new corporate group based in St. Paul, Minnesota. From that moment on, all research was directed towards new image technologies through the advent of personal computers and digitization, providing a further change of direction in terms of production; a general reorganization took place leading to the introduction of new fields of study, the resizing of the workforce, the new design of the production plant, while the rapid obsolescence of the plants needed massive investments to avoid being out of the market.
The 3M experience continued in Ferrania until the end of the Nineties, when the umpteenth company sale was under way; in the meantime, the gradual disposal of production plants began, as well as the redundancy fund for employees. From here on, different names and directions followed one another, up to the last one, that of the Messina family, which at the end of the 2000s bought the whole complex and began to implement an industrial reconversion plan with the outline of a new production tied to the issues of photovoltaics and ecology.
Talking about the history of Ferrania means, therefore, to touch a very broad subject, which goes through different eras and crosses changes caused by the evolution of history, technology and society; it is a story, that of the Valbormida plant, which spans over a hundred years, a clear evidence of Italian excellence that has become a quality brand for a long time.