THE ORIGINS
The origins of the “Fratelli Rossi” date back to the first half of the 19th century, when Ferdinando Rossi, who was barely more than a boy, became interested in tobacco pipes, foreseeing a commercial possibility.
At that time cigarettes were rare and expensive, and smoking a pipe was more an economical need, because, unlike today, it didn’t cost much. However, only Meerschaum or clay pipes were used, which were rather fragile.

In France, during the early 1600s, the first Tewa pipes industry was already born: the most renowned were in Saint-Omer. Meerschaum pipes originated instead in Thuringia around 1750.

In 1700 in Milan there were artisans who already produced excellent Meerschaum pipes.
Ferdinando often turned up at those workshops to buy the pipes he then exhibited in his father’s emporium.

Yet he wasn’t satisfied with the local production and made various trips to France, to visit pipe factories that had started a new production of briar pipes.

He thus got the idea to open a little industrial type company to produce briar pipes, becoming pioneer of the sector.

At the beginning the compny employed 12 workers, quite enough considering that the work was entirely made by hand and workers were nothing but artisans that had been convinced to be associated with Ferdinando Rossi.

Machinery was rather rudimentary and created by Rossi himself, who only later decided to replace it with appropriate machinery imported from France, realizing that only this way he could beat foreign competitors. Afterwards the company modified even this machinery, improving it, on the basis of the experience acquired in the sector by the same Rossi.

 Curving horn mouthpieces machine

Curving horn mouthpieces machine

THE BIGGEST PIPE FACTORY OF THE WORLD

In 1886 Ferdinando Rossi bought a real estate at auction, consisting of a building, adjoining land, and a water spring, situated in Molina di Barasso, a peaceful small village on the northern lakeside of Lake Varese.

He moved his pipe factory here from Milan and convinced 30 or so workers to follow him, offering to pay for the trip, relocation and accommodation.

In 1897 a new factory was opened and began a large scale mechanical production, giving birth to a modern industrial structure, capable of imposing the pipes of Barasso on the whole world. After a short handicraft phase, Rossi imported machinery similar to that used in the production of St. Claude pipes, and to make it work he asked a specialized worker from that city to come, who moved to Barasso with his family.

At the beginning of 1900 employees, mostly men and a few young boys, were more than 120 and worked 10 hours a day, six days per week.

In 1923 worker Enrico Ceresa was sent to France to discover the secrets of the art of pipe making.
He became so good he finally set up his own company in Cassano Magnago that ran entirely on electricity.

Between the two world wars, the Rossi had 800 workers and a daily production of 50,000 pieces (a record never before beaten in the world) and produced each part of the pipe in its lines.
In 1927 Italian press described the “Fratelli Rossi” as: “the most organized, the most equipped, the largest industrial plant of the world”.

The causes of this growth were quality and also low production costs.

In England they exported 25,000 pipes each day, which were sold in Woolworth stores for 6 pence.

At the outbreak of World War II, the Rossi company had to drastically reduce personnel, because the UK, now an enemy country, didn’t import Italian pipes anymore.

Luckily the appreciation German soldiers showed to pipe production allowed the owner of the company to retain the workers, avoiding deportations to Germany for forced labor.

In the meantime in the USA the first pipes made with a lower quality wood appeared and, even though Italian production resumed at the end of the war, the growth of the price of the briar,less abundant and of a poorer quality, caused a decrease in demand for Italian pipes.

The Fratelli Rossi reacted to the crisis updating their machinery and production methods, counting on a quality product. The mechanization is marginal for what concerns pipe business. The expert hand of man is necessary to improve the product: the pipe is the work of the artisan.

About 150 procedures exist to make a pipe: there are pipes that are “milled”, “inlaid”, “sandblasted” and smooth pipes, manufactured in special divisions.

Punches collection

Punches collection


Throughout its life the Rossi produced 3,400 models of pipes.
The last owner was Ferdinando Rossi. The company had 200 workers and production was around 10,000 pipes a day, which were exported all over the world, especially in the USA and in Germany.

Ferdinando Rossi, a typical modern businessman, used his free time cultivating the hobby of art and his pipes were sold in Italian and foreign markets, to satisfy the most demanding smokers.

The long business trips Ferdinando Rossi made abroad, enabled him to acquire other valuable experiences which he used in his activities.

The Rossi company disappeared almost suddenly when the owner’s daughter died of typhus fever at the age of eight. Her father dropped out of his activity due to sorrow.