When Adriano, Bruno and Marcello Cavalieri Ducati founded the "Società
Scientifica Radio Brevetti Ducati" in Bologna, in July 1926, the sum of
their ages didn't add up to fifty. And perhaps they would never have
imaged that, from that modest radio and electrical material business,
would be born one of the world's most prestigious motorcycle
For one thing, the company began in quite a different direction.
In 1922 Adriano Ducati, nineteen-year-old student of physics, was conducting a series of experiments on the newly emerging science of radio and its practical applications. On 15 January 1924 he had managed, with the equipment he had built, to establish radio contact with the United States from his home in Bologna: an extraordinary event at the time.
That was the beginning of the great Ducati adventure.
The production of capacitors and electronic components was followed, in later years, by the creation of a vast research division to add optics and mechanics, beginning to manufacture cameras and lenses as well as cash registers and electric razors.
While Adriano was the technical-scientific mind of the company, Bruno had taken on the role of Administrative and Financial Director.
On 7 May 1934, during the 1st Italian Radio Technician Congress held in Bologna, Guglielmo Marconi insisted on visiting the "Società Scientifica Radio Brevetti Ducati" at its headquarters in Viale Guidotti 51: that was a memorable visit for the Ducati brothers. As he was leaving, more than two hours later, Marconi left them an autographed photo, which is still there.
Since the company was expanding so rapidly, in 1935 they purchased 120,000 square meters of land in Borgo Panigale, at the northwest edge of Bologna.
On 1 June of that year, in the presence of city authorities,
the first stone was laid of what would become the current plant in Via
Cavalieri Ducati 3, whose architecture was designed by Bruno Cavalieri
For his merits, in 1939 he was named "Cavaliere del Lavoro", i.e. he was knighted by the Italian government.
The day after the armistice, on 9 September 1943, at 9 a.m., 20 German tanks stopped in front of the Ducati plant in Borgo Panigale, and soldiers armed with machine guns surrounded the buildings. Thus began a tragedy that seemed destined never to end for the Ducati brothers and their company. Before a factory of over 30,000 square meters, with 6,000 employees and 4,000 machine tools, the German High Command gave the order to transfer it all--men and machines--to Germany. Without the aid of anyone except their courageous workers, the Ducati brothers managed to move most of the machinery and some of the raw materials to secret warehouses overnight, by truck, wagon and even by hand, risking their lives had they been discovered. However, their efforts were not rewarded: on 12 October 1944 Allied bomb squadrons razed the plant to the ground.
Attempts to rebuild the company were frustrated, immediately following the war, by serious financial problems: on 1 December 1947, the "Società Scientifica Radio Brevetti Ducati" took its books to court. Until 1948, when the company was taken over by FIM (Fondo Industrie Meccaniche) and IMI (Istituto Mobiliare Italiano), Bruno Cavalieri Ducati retained his role as Administrative and Financial Director. After that date, control of the factory fell entirely into the hands of the State.
Meanwhile, with the war just over,
reconstruction had begun: the mayor of Bologna himself, Giuseppe Dozza,
had made available to the Ducati brothers 12 trucks received as a gift
from the Allies to clear the area from bomb debris. The time was ripe to
seek out new directions, diversifying production. The Cucciolo emerged
from the doors of the Borgo Panigale plant in 1945, the first motorcycle
built by Ducati, forbearer of all that was to come. The Cucciolo
represented an innovation in the field of motorcycles: no one had ever
before had the brilliant idea of applying a propulsion motor to a
bicycle. The extremely difficult economic conditions obviously would not
allow many people to purchase a costly vehicle, not just in terms of
price but also the difficulty of obtaining fuel: thus the essential aim
was to ensure the lowest possible fuel consumption. This feature could
be achieved only by a small, four-stage motor, capable of adapting to
various types of fuel thanks to its low compression ratio (compared to
the competition, the Cucciolo was more powerful and got better mileage:
100 km to the liter in ideal conditions).
This model was so successful that it became the key to the company's renaissance.
Ducati had begun its motorcycle age.
In 1991, Bruno Cavalieri Ducati published a "History of Ducati" through Editografica Milano, in which he reconstructed the milestones of this exciting Italian history, rich with details and lovely photographs. In 1998 he was nominated Honorary President of Ducati Motor Holding S.p.A. Just a few months before his death on 30 March 2001, Bruno Cavalieri Ducati sent a letter addressed to former Ducati employees from the late 30s, the true Golden Age of the Bologna company. But his message was actually directed to everyone who had contributed to Ducati's success in its long history.
Now that Bruno has left us, his letter almost sounds like a spiritual will and testament, a reminder to all of us to continue with courage and passion along the road undertaken by others so many years ago.
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