Adolfo Orsi: a Pioneer of the Modena Industry

Maserati - Adolfo Orsi

Adolfo Orsi, 1888-1972 Work’s Cavalier

His life seems taken from a folk tale, it revolved around sacrifice, intuition and success. Adolfo Orsi was born in Modena in 1888, in the San Lazzaro district, he was the eldest of eight children in a poor farmer family, nicknamed “Orsini”, due to the eight children’s petite and slim build.

Adolfo started work early, when he was still a child, first as a greengrocer, then as a butcher’s delivery body and as his father’s helper, to pick up old pieces of cloth and tools. When he was 15 he lost his father, and with the cart which he inherited, which he initially dragged by hand, and then, over time, by horse, as well as his siblings’ help, he continued trading. He picked up pieces of junk, gratings, and anything he found to fill up his “birroccio” (old-style cart originated in Marche), which he then took to the station to multiply his lot more and more due to the hustle and bustle, in order to gather a good sum to keep his family.

He was hard-working and resourceful, so he soon understood that he would have multiplied the 5 cents per kg which he was being paid, if he had the opportunity to convert the laminates and fusions in Modena, rather than having them done in other cities in Piedmont and Lombardy, where he sent his cart loads.

In 1992, he purchased and converted an old workshop in via Goldoni into a forge, thus creating the first wire drawn laminates industrial plant in Modena. Through the experience which he achieved and many difficulties, he created a more efficient and more productive iron and steel plant, which he combined with an industrial forge, by expanding his business even more, until he came to manage train and bus lines and an agricultural equipment plant.

In 1937, in Pradella, where he had his iron warehouse, he meets the Maserati brothers; it is told that they went to weigh a racing car to balance it out for a race which was being held in Modena. Once he found out the car’s cost and the weight and compared it with the cost of iron per kg, which he sold, he immediately gathered that this was another business opportunity. He goes from being a simple sponsor of the Maserati brand, to become its owner, moving the construction of the already well-known Trident’s Bolides from Bologna to Modena, to the new ‘just built’ plant in via Ciro Menotti no. 322. However, as the Maserati brothers also had a patent for spark plugs, he also established the “Maserati candele e accumulatori” (spark plugs and batteries) business.

From 1945 to 1948 he was the President of Modena F.C., and over these three years, the Modena team won its best placements in the series A championship, placing itself in sixth, third and fifth place. In 1946, he also combined the construction of tool machines, which, together with the cars, are exported worldwide. Once their ten-year contract was up, the brothers Maserati Ernesto, Bindo and Ettore, left the collaboration and the brand and they went back to Bologna.

Adolfo Orsi, always on the hunt for new business opportunities, used a racing series in Argentina as a promotional mean, where the Trident’s cars out-matched every other car, and this brought in many contracts for the tool machines.  At the same time, the Maserati cars won the major worldwide competitions with the most famous drivers, including Ascari, Villoresi, Gonzales, Moss, Behra, Musso and Shell, until they won the F1 world championship with Fangio in 1957, as well as the mountain championship with the sports cars. After the official retirement from the worldwide competitions, since 1958 Maserati started production in small series, those which would become the most famous GT cars in the sixties, such as the 3500 GT Touring and so on with Mistral, Messico – the Quattroporte – Ghibli, and others. Adolfo Orsi, as Maserati’s President, always contributed to with his commitment to researching constant improvement of their products.

He passed away, silently, in 26th October 1972, and he willingly expressed for the news to be made public only once the funeral had taken place. Modena lost a man which made our city illustrious and famous, making Modena’s products known worldwide.

Author: Ermanno Cozza