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Keeping the memory alive

In Archive

Lucia Nardi

10 April 2019

April 2006. After over 10 years of research, surveying and writing, and notification of interest from the Superintendent for the Archives of Lazio, Eni unveils its own historical archives. A largely unpublished legacy is been made available to students and researchers at a facility in Pomezia, where the archives are stored and can be consulted. The 2,700 square metre facility has compact shelving, scanners, equipment for converting film into digital files, a consultation room and a small display area. Paper documents are stored in nearly 5 km of shelving. There are around 400,000 images and roughly 5,000 film clips (Super 8, 16 mm, VHS and Beta). The archive is substantial given it was started later than those of most Italian companies, demonstrating it's desire to make up for lost ground

The beginnings of the Italian oil industry

In 2006, Eni celebrated what would have been the 100th birthday of its late founder Enrico Mattei by hosting a series of events. Activities included a theatre production about Eni's first Chairman, a series of film projections on the company's early years, publications and conferences. The events put the company's historical legacy in the spotlight for the first time. More than the history of Italy's energy policy that took root in 1953 - the year Eni was established by State Law - this is a more general history of oil exploration in Italy. It's the story of Agip (founded in 1926 then merged with Eni) and earlier, when smaller companies were already extracting oil at the start of the 20th century, especially in the Apennines of Emilia. This all-encompassing overview recounts in detail the journey of an industry that got a late start compared to the United States, Russia and other European countries, but that grew rapidly and went on to make a decisive contribution to the reconstruction and the economic boom in Italy. The pictures of the first wells in Caviaga and Cortemaggiore, the documents describing the technical difficulties the workers, not yet fully trained, had to face, and the pipeline links between big and small companies in the North, all show just how much first Agip and later Eni revolutionised Italian industry.


The Italian economy was not alone in enjoying the benefits the energy company introduced. Eni brought innovation to homes, too. Methane cylinders replaced the old, cheap wood ovens and fireplaces, symbolising the new standard of living that came with Italy's rebirth. Hand in hand with them came Supercortemaggiore gasoline that featured lower prices and a higher octane number than its competitors. It appeared on the roads in modern, colourful service stations. New brands were developed for the two products (Seneca had the cat for gas, Broggini the six-legged dog for gasoline), and their bright colours flooded the market on roads and in towns. Eni used marketing to stand out in an industry dominated by 'old' and powerful American and Anglo-Dutch brands. Price reductions, product quality and advertising campaigns were the weapons used in the war against the Seven Sisters.

Going abroad

Shortly after the establishment of Eni and the disappointment at failing to find oil in the Po Valley, Eni looked abroad for the supply Italy needed. Italian industry had rebuilt itself and its stock of machinery was growing quickly. Italy was devouring energy. With no significant discoveries on Italian soil, Eni looked to the Mediterranean, carrying out research to locate the supply the country needed. Egypt was the first country to accept Enrico Mattei's innovative and generous conditions, which would go down in history as the 'Mattei Formula'. The country had only recently been taken over by Gamal Abdel Nasser, a young colonel who symbolised the beginning of democracy in Egypt. The agreement he signed with Eni in 1954 allowed the Egyptians to work alongside Italians and gain all the know-how they needed to construct a functioning oil industry. Thanks to Mattei's deal, they also had the capital the new government needed for its development plan. This agreement was the first of many: Iran, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and Algeria. All were based on mutual collaboration and understanding, on respect and relationships. The archive is full of material from this period. It includes photographs and Super 8 films of local customs, which were useful for Italian operators to understand the cultural context they would be working in. There are also the contracts in which the 'Mattei Formula' first appeared, and correspondence between Eni and local governments.

"Italian industry had rebuilt itself and its stock of machinery was growing quickly: Italy was devouring energy"

A new Italy

The Italian landscape changed in the years following the Second World War. There were modern buildings, roads and bridges. Everything suggested a new Italy, one looking to the future and ready to make a place for itself among the great world powers. Eni contributed to this change and played a fundamental role in Italy's reconstruction. Enormous systems were designed for gas pipelines to cross rivers, creating one of the most extensive networks in the world. There were also new service stations, redesigned to include motels and rest areas. The derricks in the Po Valley and Sicily pointed to a country being reborn and rapidly gaining power. In the 1950s and 1960s, the six-legged dog was prevalent on the Italian landscape, showing off the Brand's style and contributing to the collective feeling of modernity. In the second half of the 1950s, photographer Federico Patellani, who is famous for his shots of the dolce vita in Rome, was hired to produce a photographic series on the Italian service stations. The more than XXX shots he took across Italy, in Aosta, Catania, Rome, Cagliari, Pizzo Calabro and Genoa, do not just capture the differences among the various stations, but they also show a country looking towards the future with optimism.