Rino Maccaccaro began working for Fedrigoni’s Verona paper mill in 1954 when he was fifteen. His first job was as ‘press watchman’ on the paper machine; he was so small that he had to climb up the machine to operate the controls. While a teenager, he attended Fedrigoni’s in-house training school, which included lessons in chemistry, physics, paper-making techniques, history and culture, complete with a final exam. In the 1960s he was an ‘assistant’, and in 1984 he was promoted to ‘production foreman’. After Maccaccaro’s retirement in 1992 he continued to work as a consultant for in-house training and quality certification.
He now works in the company’s archive with former Fedrigoni Chemical Laboratory employee Silvano Brescianini. Fedrigoni intends to tell the story of the company using material long stored in warehouses. Maccaccaro and Brescianini are now assessing, cataloguing and organising the exhibits.
Did you ever consider working outside the paper industry?
When I was fifteen I just wanted to run away – especially when I was on the night shift and every shadow made me shudder. But once I was bitten by a passion for paper there was really no other possible trade for me.
The paper-making process is based on a series of physical and chemical principles. It was when I learned more about the manufacturing process at the in-house school that I came to love paper. That love has lasted all my life.
What did your parents and grandparents do for Fedrigoni?
My paternal grandfather began working for Fedrigoni in 1888 (the year the company was founded) and stayed until about 1920. He was also involved in preparing the pulp, as was his son, my father, who worked there until 1953. My maternal grandfather worked for ten years in the paper mill, roughly from 1920 to 1930. My two grandfathers were colleagues and my parents met thanks to their friendship.
My sister, two years older than me, worked in the Fedrigoni finishing-forwarding department from 1951 to 1977. At the time, this department employed about 170 women who chose and counted every sheet of paper by hand in order to make up the packages.
I could also mention several cousins. Currently my brother-in-law works in the paper-making area, but apart from him (now 50), my family dynasty in the paper mill has come to an end.
What are your favourite items in the archive?
The item I am most fond of is the appliance used to measure ‘double folds’ (nicknamed the ‘crease-meter’) because it reminds me of my first years in the Quality Control Laboratory, when such equipment seemed like a beast that had to be tamed. I am also very fond of some watermark screens, since they remind me of the effort needed to assemble ‘good workmanship’ and the wonder of seeing the watermarks left on the reel of paper.
Is there anything missing from the archive?
Sadly, between 1944 and 1945 the paper mill was bombed several times and razed to the ground. The first continuous paper machines and their parts are missing but fortunately the layout drawings of the 1888 machines have been saved in fine condition and are on show in the archive. The Dutch wood machines [the first pulp refining tanks] are also missing, decommissioned 40 or 50 years ago, as well as endless numbers of tools and equipment that were deemed ‘scrap metal’.
How do you think that paper-making might evolve in the future, say 25 or 50 years from now?
In my opinion, the great leap in paper-making took place between the 1960s and 2000: technology improved and raw materials became more sophisticated. Automation helped achieve previously unthinkable speeds. But sheets of paper are still made using natural fibres interwoven in a certain way.
What are the biggest changes you have seen during your time at Fedrigoni?
I think that the crucial change was the shift from manual skills to in-line controls! When I was a young paper-making assistant, I saw the old ‘paper-makers’ measure the degree of pulp refining, smoothness and opacity using their eyes and hands, and experience was the only yardstick that allowed a master to assess product quality. Yet I have to say that the introduction of in-production controls revealed that our old craftsmen’s assessments were often only half a degree out!