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chemical fiber factory / Varedo / 1922 - 2004 / 2002 onwards / SNIA VISCOSA Rieti


Until 1922 Varedo was just a small village in the industrious northern hinterland of Milan. The presence of a railway line, the large availability of water and the local skilled working class (especially in the textile sector) represented a perfect environment in which set up an "artificial silk" factory. This was done by Seta Artificiale Varedo, a joint-venture between the Italian SNIA Viscosa and the British Courtaulds. The 1920s were years of great enthusiasm regarding artificial textiles: already in 1925 Seta Artificiale Varedo proceeded to the construction of new factories in Magenta and Ceriano Laghetto, both within the Milanese urban region. Meanwhile, Varedo viscose rayon obtained great success in Italy and Europe too, as demonstrated by many articles and advertisement on international magazines.



In 1927 the stock control of Seta Artificiale Varedo was acquired by the founding company SNIA Viscosa and just a few years later, in 1931, the subsidiary ceased to exist. The Varedo factory, once effectively controlled by SNIA, was totally restructured, enlarged and adapted to reach the highest capacities ever planned. In particular, it was designated to experiment on large scale the manufacturing of Sniafiocco, the staple fiber (or cut thread, a substitute of cotton). In 1936-38 the "fiocco" plant was completed and so the rest of the factory. At the threshold of the war Varedo was the largest Italian viscose rayon manufacturing site and one of the most advanced in the Western World. By 1940 the plant reached daily levels of 10000 kg of rayon (Sniafilo) and 50000 kg of viscose staple (Sniafiocco). During the German occupation in northern Italy the factory was directly controlled by Wermacht personnel. No bombings or sabotages were reported during the entire wartime.



Already in 1946 Varedo was interested by some relevant improvement plans, following the strategic vision of SNIA's chairman Franco Marinotti about concentrating the production in few big-sized efficient sites. Therefore, Varedo was chosen as the experimental site for a new viscose manufacturing process, patented in the USA by Industrial Rayon Corporation, known as "continuous spinning". In that, a large semi-automatic machine was able to complete the whole spinning and finishing operations without interruptions (cost and quality -saving oriented). Once implemented in Varedo in 1949, the continuous spinning machine was nicknamed "Diva" by the workers, referring to beautiful American movie stars. The Diva(s) was located in a brand new autonomous plant side-by-side with the existing one, provided with its own power station. Such an increase of viscose manufacturing let to the decision to provide the complex with its own carbon disulfide facility (9000 t/y, completed in 1951), a key raw material previously bought elsewhere.



A step further was represented by synthetic fibers, which developed largely in the 1950s around Europe, USA and Japan. The first synthetic fiber able to impose on the market was polyamide, better known as nylon. Even this time SNIA was on the frontline: in 1952 the first nylon pilot plant was set up in Varedo, being the first in Italy. It was a nylon 6-type named Lilion. Its success was so immediate that production capacity had to be quickly improved. While expanding year after year the Lilion plant two other synthetic fibers began to be manufactured also: nylon 11 (Rilsan) and polyester (Wistel). In the meantime, viscose manufacturing was improved too, especially regarding on-site raw materials production. In 1956 a 45000 t/y sulfuric acid plant was added nearby the carbon disulfide plant, while a sodium sulfate recovering plant was set up in the following year. To sustain this impressive growth, a third large oil-fired power plant was built in 1963. Its capacity of 45000 kW served not just Varedo, but also Cesano Maderno, Ceriano Laghetto, Magenta and Pavia SNIA factories.



Until the early 1970s the Varedo factory accounted 40% (37000 t/y) of the entire SNIA's viscose fibers production and 50% (23000 t/y) of the polyamide fibers one. But things were changing. Repeated oil crisis and the international growing competition badly hit the chemical textile sector all over Western Europe. The larger were the factories, the harder was the blow. At Varedo, already suffering from violent turmoils due to heavy contrasts between the workers and the management, the situation worsen in a couple of years. In addition, SNIA group was shifting from chemical fibers to more profitable businesses such as fine chemistry, defense and aerospace engineering. It was then decided to cut down the workforce in Varedo and close the whole viscose section, a step-by-step operation completed in 1982. On the other side, nylon production was maintained and, after 1994, assigned to Nylstar (a joint-venture between SNIA and Rhone-Poulenc). Activities proceeded for ten more years, until the failure of the latter, in 2004. An unfair and bitter end for such a glorious factory, now representing one of the most impressive industrial archeology sites in Italy and Europe too.
























Some of my earliest photographs here. It was 2004 and the nylon spinning plant was closing down.









Spadoni, M. (2003), Il Gruppo SNIA dal 1917 al 1951, Giappichelli, Torino.

Trincheri, G. (2001), Industrie chimiche in Italia dalle origini al 2000, Arvan, Mira.

Ufficio Stampa e Propaganda della SNIA Viscosa (1939), Dieci anni di attività della SNIA Viscosa : 1929-1939, Tipografia Lucini, Milano.

Ufficio Stampa e Propaganda della SNIA Viscosa (1949), Gruppo SNIA Viscosa, Tipografia Lucini, Milano.

Ufficio Stampa e Propaganda della SNIA Viscosa (1958), La SNIA Viscosa nel suo 40° anno. 1917-1957, Tipografia Lucini, Milano.

Ufficio Stampa e Propaganda della SNIA Viscosa (1970), Mezzo secolo di SNIA Viscosa, PAN, Milano.



Sette canne, un vestito. (1949, Michelangelo Antonioni) | One of the earlier works of Michelangelo Antonioni is a short documentary film commissioned by SNIA Viscosa. In less than ten minutes Antonioni describes the entire process of rayon manufacturing. The first half was filmed in Torviscosa, where cellulose was produced starting from reeds, while the second half (starting at 05:33) shows the Varedo factory in which cellulose is transformed into textile rayon. The "miracle" of rayon ends into a fashion show: "seven reeds, one suite" is the title of the film, indeed.


La Settimana INCOM (October 10, 1962) | Newsreel dedicated to SNIA industrial center at Torviscosa. From 06:00 Varedo Lilion plant is shown too.