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Edoardo Bianchi - the early yearsAuthor: David Carpenter, Marque enthusiast for Bianchi in the V-CC
Edoardo Bianchi - a brief history of the famous Italian manufacturer of cycles, motor-cycles and cars. (Information from Edoardo Bianchi by Antonio Gentile:
The Bianchi story begins on the 17th July 1865 when Edoardo Bianchi was born in the shadow of Milan's famous Duomo. He was taken into care at the local Martinitte orphanage. For Edoardo the orphanage was to prove a formative and indispensable experience. By the tender age of seven years, along with a basic education, he had also received the first rudiments of mechanical instruction that were to prove so important to his future career. New social and economic changes induced by the phenomenom of industrialisation were taking place.
The young Edoardo was sent into the world as a mechanic's apprentice. Right from the start he set aside part of his earnings in order to make regular donations to the institution that had raised him as a child. Early on he was already displaying the charismatic force which would lead him to the forefront of Italy's expanding industrial system.
Edoardo opened his first workshop at No' 7 Via Nirone in 1885. Right at the outset he vowed to achieve his personal and professional independence by adopting a frank and honest approach to his business dealings; above all his policy was to offer a high quality finished product using only the best materials. Choosing at the outset to diversify his production, the workshop could supply velocipedes, invalid carriages, precision instruments, electric doorbells (!), surgical instruments, and wheel hubs.
But Edoardo's imagination was immediately drawn to the construction of bicycles. Early designs were soon discarded when Edoardo produced a model with equal sized wheels, a feature soon copied by the many competitors across Lombardy. And so the Italian bicycle was born. Improvements to the original soon followed. In 1888 the expanding Bianchi firm moved to Via Bertani. Also in that year Edoardo applied John Boyd Dunlop's idea to fit an air-filled rubber tyre. Five years later a new factory was open in Via Borghetto. Around this time Edoardo was summoned to the royal court to teach Queen Margherita the art of cycling. Lessons were given in the park of the royal villa at Monza using a special "Bianchi" featuring a crystal chainguard. Other titled ladies followed: the Duchesses of Aosta and Genova, Queen of Napoli and Princess of Portugal. King Umberto decided in 1895 to appoint Bianchi as official suppliers by Appointment to the Royal Court. This distinction entitled Bianchi to make use of the coat of arms of the royal house of Savoy. More awards followed at the trade fairs at Rome, Bologna and Milan and the Exposition International du Salon de Cycles in Paris. Cycling had arrived!
The newly-founded Italian Touring Club organised trips out into the countryside and the new sport of cycle racing soon followed. Bianchi naturally soon made a name for itself. All the same, Edoardo would never turn his back on the bicycle in spite of developing motorised versions which ultimately became motor cycles and automobiles.
Giovanni Tommaselli caught Bianchi's eye in 1897 when he won the Italian championship riding a Prinetti e Stucchi on the track at Alessandria. Tommaselli was immediatedly hired and competed in the 1899 Paris Grand Prix. Edoardo, who was a good scout, hit the bullseye here too. In what was considered the World Championship of track racing Tommaselli won the admiration of the Parisian public as he held off an extremely strong field to win. The Italian cyclist's French success was to have an extremely positive effect across the board. Apart from bringing Bianchi international prestige Tommaselli's feat sent the sales curve shooting upwards. He later became one of the firm's top financial managers. The cycling team went from strength to strength in their sky-blue and white colours, winning the Giro d'Italia, Italian Championship, Rome-Naples-Rome, etc. These early riders included Galetti, Oriani, Pavesi, Azzini, Sivocce, Cervi, Agostini and Bruschera, all under manager Erminio Cavedini. Other great wins included Rossignoli, who in June 1906 covered the 181 kms from Milano to Torino in 4 hrs 47' 22". Gerbi won the 340 km National Endurance Race on 23rd July 1905, and Cuniolo covered 176 kms in 6 hrs 35' 34" to win the King's Cup on 1st Oct 1905. The faithful team manager played major roles in the company for over 50 years. The motor racing team was also very successful. One of the drivers was Alfieri Maserati, later to build his own racing cars.
In 1912 the bicycle catalogue contained 14 different models - for "ladies, children, priests and gentlemen". Prices were from 185 lire to 460 lire. By the end of 1907 a new factory was needed to cope withthe car production. This was built at 16 Viale Abruzzi in Milan. It was to be the head office for many years to come. By 1922 the bicycle list included two Giro d'Italia models. Wins in the prestigious Milano-San Remo came to 16 in the first 50 years. Belloni won the Giro de Lombardia for Bianchi in both 1915 and 1916. Later on, the first of the great, Constante Giradengo (see Milano-San Remo image above) joined the team. He was to become the first Campionissimo and with Pavesi they were to have a great influence on Fausto Coppi's career. The Bianchi that Petit-Breton rode to win the first Milano-San Remo race in 1907 is displayed in the Museum of Science and Technology in Milan together with Fausto Coppi's 1947 machine, both frame finished in the famous celeste colour.
In 1922 bikes were equipped with Coventry chains and Bowden Touriste brakes. The racing tem was doing well. Seres won the Paris 6-day; Giradengo was successful in the Giro di Romagna and Giro dell'Emilia. Belloni won stages in the Giro and Gremo the Giro di Piemonte. During this time the motor cycle team was equally successful with the star rider, Tazio Nuvolari. Again the machines were finished in the celeste colour and the riders wore sky blue and white jerseys.
By 1932 cycle production was up to 70,000 units per year and great importance was placed on the promotional value of the Bianchi team performances. In 1939 the team was looking very professional with 9 riders led by Giuseppe Olmo, who had set a new hour record in 1936 of 45.090 km. Alberto Ascari joined the motor cycle team. He was later to become Formula One champion in 1952. The bicycles available in 1939 were the Scelta Corsa, which had wooden rims and tubulars. The Folgore model had the Campagnolo 3/4 speed Corsa gear ... The rest is history!
Bianchi advert 1930
Photograph of the Bianchi cycling team - 1939
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