COTONIFICIO BENIGNO CRESPI
cotton mill / Capriate San Gervasio / 1878 - 2003 / 2009, 2011
Renowned as a symbol of Italian early industrialization as well as an architectural masterpiece, this grandiose cotton mill was established in 1877-78 by the entrepreneur Cristoforo Benigno Crespi. Initially, the small-sized spinning mill was equipped with 5000 Platt Brothers spindles and provided with an own water canal, derived from the nearby Adda river. During the following fifteen years the cotton mill quintupled in size (25000 spindles in 1891), while the 600 employees – a number extraordinarily high for the time – began to occupy the model village designed by Crespi around the factory, later known as Crespi d'Adda. In 1895 a weaving mill – equipped with 200 Rüti mechanic looms – was started, followed by a dyeing plant in 1898 (the latter applied, for the first time in Italy, the Thomas-Prevost mercerization system). The expansion was relentless: the 36600 spindles and 320 looms of 1902 grew up to respectively 44000 and 722 in 1909, while the employees reached quota 1500. Once two hydroelectric power stations were completed, the factory was then entirely converted to the use of electrical energy. The first one (Centrale Taccani, 1906) was realized with the financial help of Edison company and Banca Commerciale Italiana (BCI). Located upstream along the Adda river, it was equipped with ten turbines of 1000 kW each. The second one (Centrale Crespi, 1909), smaller, was built within the cotton mill perimeter and equipped with three Brown Boveri turbines of 640 kW each. In that time the factory and the workers village knew the most prosperous period.
A positive conjuncture in the mid 1920s led the company to invest in further expansion. In 1928 – the 50th anniversary of the foundation – the great cotton mill was provided with 69900 spinning spindles, 12000 twisting spindles, 1200 semi-automatic looms and a large dying plant capable of treating 50000 meters of woven daily; the whole manufacturing process involved around 3600 workers. However, behind such an impressive productive machine a fragile financial situation was ready to explode. Initially, the revaluation of the Italian lira promoted by Benito Mussolini caused to the company a collapse of exports – which used to account for 50% on the whole production. The 1929 world crisis provoked then a strong devaluation of raw cotton, earlier acquired in large amounts by Crespi with loans from BCI. As result, the company run into debts towards the bank for around 40 millions of lire, a sum double than the company's capital. In 1931 BCI formed a new enterprise called STI-Stabilimenti Tessili Italiani, basically a merge between Cotonificio Crespi, Manifatture Toscane Riunite and Cotonificio Veneziano insolvent companies. The Crespis' left the ownership of both the cotton mill and the workers village in 1936.
The decline begun in the late 1930s proceeded even in the 1940s, and in 1952 the company was put in temporary receivership. After a short ownership by Manifattura Rossari & Varzi, the cotton mill was split between two companies in 1972: Addafilo (new spinning mill, weaving mill, dyeing plant) and Inditex (old spinning mill and power station), both formed by GEPI state holding and private textile enterprises. One of these, Legler, became the only one owner in 1976 and remained so until 2003, the year of the definitive closure. In 1995 the workers village (factory excluded) was declared World Heriage Site by UNESCO.
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