When Orfeo Went to Work...

Written by  Daniele Biancardi
A brief history of the Fratelli Santini Company, in Bondeno.
Orfeo Santini, founder of this major family business, was born in Bondeno on 15 August 1833; at the age of thirteen he left school to go and work in the workshops of his uncle Sante Lugli, a coppersmith. From his uncle he learnt to make all sorts of objects, particularly out of tin: covers, lamps and night-lights.

In 1854, Orfeo went to look for work in Bologna; he found it in the workshops of one signor Spada, where they repaired brass musical instruments. Santini spent three years here before returning to Bondeno, where he opened a small business.

He opened for trade on 1 October 1857. Work was soon coming to him in such quantity that his younger brothers also stopped going to school in order to dedicate themselves to the business, where they repaired articles in tin, brass and other metals. From repairs he moved on to the actual manufacturing of brass oil lamps, which were sent to Ferrara for sale.

And in 1863, Orfeo set out for his first journey as a commercial traveller: taking with him five lamps, his destinations: Bologna, Modena, Parma, Reggio Emilia and Milan. The following year the trips grew in number to the Romagna, the Marche and Tuscany. Thus the Fratelli Santini company started to gain a reputation; production grew significantly and soon there were twenty employees.
In 1868, Santini, who was sensitive to social issues, took part in constituting the Società di Mutuo Soccorso fra gli Artigiani e gli Operai, a friendly society for workers and craftsmen. Soon afterwards he was among the founders of the Società Progressista e Operaia, later becoming its chairman; he was also a member of the town council.

In 1879, Orfeo moved to Ferrara, where he set up a new works in Via Garibaldi. The company was based here until 1900, the year when Orfeo's sons built a new factory outside Porta Po.

After the retirement of the founder, Orfeo, the company continued to prosper under the management of the brothers Silvio, Umberto and Paolo, becoming a truly industrial plant. The company, who owned the Aquilas and Santini brands, produced light fittings, household goods and metalwork of all descriptions, widely exported.

The three brothers continued their father's work, managing the company as a real family. This heritage of solidarity and entrepreneurial innovation allowed them to manufacture the first acetylene lamps for lighting. With the death of Silvio, on 31 May 1914, and with the retirement from business of Umberto, the youngest of the brothers became the head of the company.
Under his management it developed into a major factory, reaching 500 employees in 1925. The Santini brothers were the forerunners of the Ferrara industrial zone.

The company was always alert to industrial relations issues. Silvio Santini paid at his own expense for all the employees to join the National Accidents Fund; his brother Paolo took care of acquiring lodging houses close to the works for several workers' families and founded a nursery to care for the children most in need.

Paolo Santini provided free health care to workers and clerical staff, with not just a factory doctor but also home visits; to assist workers with financial problems he set up a special fund and, in 1928, set up the company social club.
Following the second world war, at an advanced age and seriously ill, he bravely took up the reins again in the ruins of the works which had been almost completely destroyed in an air raid.

On Paolo's death in 1952, the firm passed into the hands of his daughter Adele and his son-in-law, professor Carlo Lega; the company was restored to operations using some old structures, and elsewhere with new plant and machinery. After celebrating its centenary in 1959, the company closed its doors during the 1960s.