In 1922 Pirelli celebrated its first fifty years of operation. It had already become a major multinational group, with three plants in Italy and a foreign group of several associated companies that managed the plants in Europe – Spain and Britain – as well as in Latin America. And it already had countless commercial operations and two rubber-tree plantations in Indonesia. Among the numerous events put on to celebrate the anniversary, one in particular is worthy of note for its originality and importance: the creation of the Museo Storico delle Industrie Pirelli – the historical museum of Pirelli industries. According to Mario Luzzatto, who was the sales director of the Pirelli tyres sector at the time, the anniversary needed to be given something truly fitting, something “new” – something that would have “vast repercussions”: an exhibition that would illustrate the raw materials, the production processes, and the products and their applications, but also the many sports events in which Pirelli was taking part, and its advertising campaigns, as well as its programmes for welfare assistance, social security, and culture. Luzzato stated that the exhibition was to be “an affirmation of the strength of our company in a way that I believe is unprecedented and that is unlikely to find imitators”. It was also certain to be a “remarkable attraction for all the people of Milan and for many of those who come to our city”.
The most suitable venue was initially deemed to be the Palazzo della Permanente in Via Principe Umberto (now Via Turati), built in 1886 to a design by Luca Beltrami, to host art exhibitions. Pietro Allodi and the architect Giacomo Loria, formerly a designer at Borgo Pirelli, transformed Luzzatto’s idea into a draft project, with a section devoted to the production process and to Pirelli products, and rooms for “crowd-pulling artistic events” with a “historical display of all the company’s posters and catalogues”. There would also be “statistics”, with “figure diagrams to illustrate the development of the company in all the various sectors”. Luzzatto’s proposal was ultimately turned into an exhibition in the main hall of the fifteenth-century Bicocca degli Arcimboldi, which became part of the Pirelli legacy in 1917, when more land was purchased for the new factory. This led to the creation of the Museo Storico delle Industrie Pirelli, on the initiative and with the support of company staff. The committee that organised all the operations for the celebrations included representatives of the managers, employees, and workers, and all the staff came together to fund the project by donating part of their salary. Products, documents, photographs, drawings, and even some rubber trees were all put on display in the museum.
The Pirelli Technical Department created large drawings with views of the factories and graphs with production statistics. Taking advantage of these as a “particularly distinctive and effective form of promotion”, the company decided to make the museum permanent, with the constant addition of new materials. The Museo Storico delle Industrie Pirelli remained as it was until the Second World War. When it closed down, many of the exhibits on show entered the collection that Luzzatto himself created in the 1940s. This constituted the original core collection of what became the Historical Archive, now housed at the Pirelli Foundation. Indeed, many documents now in our archive bear the stamp of the Museo Storico, testifying to the ambitious celebration project put on by a company that, in 1922, already had a great story to tell.