Tag: Business

Immigrants Made Good – Carlo Gatti

British taste buds might not be so happy today without the innovation and entrepreneurialism of one Carlo Gatti. He is, after all, credited with being the first to offer ice cream at an affordable rate to the general public. He rose from a poor, isolated region in the Blenio Alpine Valley to become one of the most brilliant business marketing gurus of the Victorian era.

Carlo Gatti, 19th century ice-cream pioneer
Carlo Gatti, 19th century ice-cream pioneer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gatti was born in 1817 in Canton Ticino, a predominantly Italian-speaking region in Switzerland. Common speculation puts his place of birth in the village of Marogno which was then within the boundaries of the commune of Dongio. He was the youngest of six siblings born to Stefano and Apollonia Gatti.

As a child, Gatti showed little ambition, and regularly played truant from school. Like many young men in the region, Gatti couldn’t wait to leave in search of greater opportunities throughout industrialized Europe. A harsh beating at school provided the final push Gatti needed, and rather than returning home, he simply set off on a 600 mile walk to Paris, where his father was running a small business selling chestnuts.

Paris at the time was a hub of innovation and business. Cafes throughout the city offered coffee, ice cream and live music to all classes of people, and young Gatti certainly must have absorbed the atmosphere and learned from their management and business strategies. Rather than settling into the family business, however, Gatti turned his eyes on greener pastures.

In 1847, at the age of 30, Gatti arrive at Dover with his young wife, Maria Marioni. He quickly found a home in London and settled into life in the bustling Italian community in Holburn. He started out with a business he knew well, selling chestnuts and waffles from a little stall. Before long, however, two of his children died, and some suggest that this event spurred Gatti to greater ambition in pursuit of a better life for his family.

By 1849, Gatti went into business with Swiss chocolatier Battista Bolla. Together they opened a café restaurant, specializing in chocolate and ice cream – a treat previously reserved only for the very wealthy. The duo set up a Parisian chocolate making machine in their front window to attract passers-by, and soon business was bustling.

hokey pokey manAfter exhibiting his chocolate machine at the Great Exhibition in 1851, he opened the first of five shops in Hungerford Market that thrived on selling the original “penny licks” – a penny’s worth of ice cream served in a shell. His penny ice cream was such a novelty that London’s streets were soon bustling with Italian ice cream vendors – or “Hokey Pokey men” – tempting customers to “ecco un poco” or “taste a little”.

In 1854, Hungerford Hall burned down, damaging the adjoining market. Fortunately, Gatti was insured and he was able to use the compensation to replace the structure with a grand music hall. Just a few years later, he sold his music hall at a healthy profit to the South Eastern Railway, and the hall was turned into Charing Cross station.

With the proceeds, he set up a second music hall which later became a cinema.  Around the same time, Gatti built a huge “ice well” where he could store the tons of ice that he began importing from Norway. In 1862, he built a second ice house, and was established as the largest ice importer in London. Capitalizing on this, he set up a fleet of delivery carts to supply ice for household ice boxes.

Due to his entrepreneurial spirit, and careful business strategies, Gatti went on to found new confectioner’s shops, cafes, restaurants, and even the world’s largest billiards room. When Gatti died on September 6th, 1878 in his home town of Dongio, all of his London businesses closed to pay their respects to the life of this immigrant who had truly achieved greatness.

Immigrants Made Good – Hugo Hirst

Hugo Hirst is perhaps best known as the Father of the British General Electric Company (not to be confused with the American company General Electric). He was a brilliant businessman and industrialist and played a key role in the advancement and manufacturing of electric appliances, communications and engineering. He would eventually become Lord Hirst of Witton and a naturalized British citizen, but this great man began life under a different name – and in a much humbler setting.

Scans from Forty Years of Electrical Progress ...
Sir Hugo Hirst, Bart. Chairman and Managing Director of the General Electric Company, Ltd. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hugo Hirst was born Hugo Hirsch on November 26, 1863 in a tiny Bavarian market town called Altenstadt. His family was decidedly middle class, though his Jewish parents were well established as part-owners of a local distillery. Hugo’s father Emanuel ran the firm of Meyer and Hirsch with his three brothers.

The Hirsch family soon moved to Munich, where Emanuel Hirsch set up a new distillery. Young Hugo was enrolled in the technical school Städtische Handelsschule where he excelled in mathematics. As he progressed academically, he chose to specialize in chemistry with plans to enter his father’s business. Before he could follow through on those plans, he became unhappy with life in Munich, and he instead launched out to begin a career of his own in England.

He was greatly encouraged in his immigration plans by his uncle, Dr. Henry Dick, who worked as a medical consultant on Wimpole Street. A distant cousin, Gustav Binswanger had also emigrated in 1872 and the two shared lodging for a time. Hirsch loved England immediately, and quickly took on the language and customs of the land – even Anglicizing his name to Hirst within months of arriving.

Hugo took a job with a mercantile shipping firm, though he received no salary at first and survived on a small allowance from his father. Soon the firm discovered that young Hugo was proficient in Morse Code – a skill that was vital to the firm’s daily communications with their Indian office. Messages were often long and prone to error, but as soon as Hugo took over, he developed an error correction system that resulted in a significant reduction in messages that had to be re-sent – resulting in major financial savings. In spite of this, his employer refused to pay him more than a pittance, so he began looking for a new job.

He found work with the Electric Power Storage Company, and this marked his entrance into the world of Electrical Engineering. At the same time, his cousin Gustav Binswanger had founded G. Binswanger and Company (an electrical good wholesale company). Hugo soon formed a partnership with Binswanger and they changed the name of the company to The General Electric Apparatus Company.

The original version of General Electric's cir...
The original version of General Electric’s circular logo and trademark. The trademark application was filed on July 24, 1899, and registered on September 18, 1900 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The two found almost immediate success through selling electrical components. The entrepreneurial Hirst saw the potential of electricity and capitalized on the budding industry. The company soon acquired its first factory where telephones, electric switches and electric bells were produced.

As the company continued to expand, they began opening new factories and branches that offered “everything electrical”.  They incorporated as a private company in 1889 and became known as General Electric Company Ltd. In 1909, the company’s name was changed to Osram and was soon leading the way in electric lamp design, producing some of the best tungsten filament lamps at the time.

In 1910, Hugo became Chairman and Managing Director and the company began to export their products overseas. GEC continued to expand throughout WWI, as they became heavily involved in war time production.

In 1925, Hugo Hirst was made the Baron of Witton in the County of Warwick. He passed away in 1943 at the age of 79.

The Italian Hurdy Gurdy Men

Carlo Gatti is credited for introducing ice cream to the British as a street food. Throughout the 1850s, he peddled his sweet treats from his brightly painted cart. He and a few other ice cream vendors found such a ready market that they began bringing other Italians over to join them in the venture. These ice cream vendors were largely responsible for the popular take-away food culture that continues to thrive in some of England’s largest cities.

Carlo Gatti, 19th century ice-cream pioneer
Carlo Gatti, 19th century ice-cream pioneer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the economy in Italy took a nosedive, the trickle of Italian emigrants rapidly became a flood. Some went to America, though a large number made their home in Scotland. The established community of Italians began to bring friends and relatives in to work in the family industry. Padrones, or “benefactors”, would send agents back to Italy to recruit cheap labour for their enterprises – primarily the ice cream business. Carlo Giuliani was one of the most successful and well-known of the padrones, and he is credited with laying the foundation for the ice cream industry in Scotland.

Many Italian immigrants arrived with little to nothing, and initially made a living by begging or as itinerant musicians playing hurdy-gurdies on street corners. The hurdy-gurdy men and the beggars realized that they could make more money selling ice cream, and the padrones were all too eager to give them a barrow and take a cut of the profits.

Every morning throughout the warm summer months, the Italians would work their hand-cranks to freeze the ice cream mix they had prepared the night before, and then they would set off on their rounds. Throughout London, Manchester, Glasgow and other big cities, the ice cream vendors could be heard calling, “Gelati, ecco un poco!” This cry quickly earned them the nickname “hokey pokey men”.

While they were making more money, the immigrants were still grossly underpaid and lodged in poor conditions. During the winter months, many had to go back to working as hurdy-gurdy men to earn enough to survive. The Italians spoke little English at first, and many were subjected to mischief and abuse at the hands of local youth.

Photo credit: V & A Museum

Necessity forced the immigrants to persevere, however, and many soon became very successful. In a short 50 years between 1870 and 1920, the ice cream vendors had graduated from rickety hand carts and shabby slum shops to rather luxurious establishments. Ice cream cafes along Sauchiehall Street and in Glasgow’s city centre boasted leather-covered seats, glossy wooden booths and mirror-lined walls.

Carlo Giuliani himself was running three hugely successful cafes in Glasgow by 1890, and customers were pouring in by the thousands. He often had five or more assistants working behind the bar serving out ice cream and drinks like ginger ale.

The hand barrows slowly faded into oblivion as more immigrants moved into shops. Employees often aspired to owning their own establishment, and many would buy into a chain when they could prove their ability to turn a healthy profit. An immigrant could buy into a chain and get stocked up for about £150. Giuliani eventually established a huge network of cafes throughout Glasgow by using this system.

By 1905, there were an estimated 336 ice cream shops in Glasgow and the Italian population had reached nearly 5000. By the 1920s there was a whole new Scottish-born generation serving behind the counters of the family enterprises. At the same time, British Parliament passed the 1920 Aliens Order which required immigrants to gain a work permit before entering the country. The Italian government also passed stiff anti-emigration laws to stem the flow of its citizens. The Scottish-Italian community still thrives today, however, and their food and culture is widely celebrated


Copy Protected by Chetan's WP-Copyprotect.