Great Works And Immense Fortunes

An immense number of Italian emigrants participated in major public works, and many were victims of accidents. Much of the work on the Frejus, San Gottardo and  Simplon tunnels, or the Transiberian and Tonking railways was done by Italians. A typical feature of employment in the building sector was its temporary nature and the organisation of working groups which included various trades and occupations, from bricklaying to the simple but arduous task of loading and unloading bricks. A certain number of emigrants achieved success as businessmen.

Economist Luigi Einaudi coined the appropriate expression “prince merchants” to define men who, often starting from nothing, were able to take every opportunity and eventually reach enviable positions. These are stories of men who quickly passed from rags to riches, achieving great prestige and rising to positions of prominence in  their new homeland. Their success contributed to the spread of Italian products all over the world, particularly in the food sector.

Among these successful stories we can take one example: in Brazil, Giuseppe Giorgi started as a simple worker and became a railway builder thanks to his technical and organisational abilities; he obtained enormous orders from the local public administration and rose to prominence in a highly profitable sector which was normally the domain of the British.

Brazil, São Paulo, Railway works
Brazil, São Paulo, Railway works
Libya, Tripoli. Building sites. José Malgioglio
Libya, Tripoli. Building sites. José Malgioglio
Rumania, Straja. Clearing woodlands and cutting railway sleepers
Rumania, Straja. Clearing woodlands and cutting railway sleepers
Postcard from Switzerland, showing the Mont Cenis tunnel, sent to an address in Florence
Postcard from Switzerland, showing the Mont Cenis tunnel, sent to an address in Florence