Abstract: Traveling for Industry: G. B. Pirelli and the Origins of the Pirelli Rubber Company, 1870-1872

Francesca Polese


Knowledge has been increasingly considered a crucial resource for economic and business development. However, recent literature has pointed out that "knowledge" per se is a rather generalized concept that calls for further specifications. Applying the framework suggested by Lundvall and Johnson, the paper is largely based on the first-hand evidence provided by the manuscript diary written by Giovanni Battista Pirelli (1848-1932)—Italian engineer and entrepreneur, founder (1872) of the first Italian rubber company, G. B. Pirelli & C.—during his educational journey through Europe (1870-1871), accomplished with the aim of acquiring the knowledge necessary to start the rubber industry in the country. The paper investigates the complexity of the learning mechanism, which in the second half of the nineteenth century allowed a relatively peripheral region like Northern Italy to reduce the gap separating it from the center of European industrialization. Special attention is devoted to the characteristics of the rubber manufacturing industry in the second half of the nineteenth century and to the specific difficulties encountered in the acquisition and transfer of knowledge (including technology) related to a relatively new and rapidly evolving industry. Finally, the paper attempts to explain how Pirelli was able to adapt the information attained during his journey to the Italian context.