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Habiter la ville

Maurice Garden
Yves Lequin

I. Formation des populations urbaines

Industrial production and the redistribution of capital and labor in nineteenth century Lombardy

Louise Audino Tilly

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  • 1 The author thanks colleagues at Round Table II, Lyon, May, 1981, Professors Jacob Price and Domeni (...)

1« Les chemins multiples de l'industrialisation », Yves Lequin’s evocative phrase, correctly insists on the historical particularity of each nation’s industrialization. His case study of Lyon and Lyonnais (Lequin 1977) examines the history of the economic relationships of the city and its region, the social and demographic history of workers everyday life, and collective action. This and other case studies, as well as recent analyses of other aspects of industrialism and industrialization suggest a set of systematic variations in cities and regions experiencing large scale structural change. Their findings offer a challenge to an older view of the process of economic change. This paper offers yet another case, that of Milan and Lombardy, a contribution to the historical revision of our understanding of industrialization1.

2Early interpretations of industrialization put forward the idea of an Industrial Revolution centering on the rise of steam power, machine production, factories and urban locations for industry which created a first dramatic break between «preindustrial society» and the productive yet demanding discipline of industrialism.

3By the post Second World War period, more complex interpretations were offered, frequently emphasizing the role of individual innovators and entrepreneurs. T. S. Ashton’s now classic study of the Industrial Revolution in England identified its cause in the availability of capital, and a «willingness to employ savings productively» –an «increased mobility of capital [that] was socially beneficial...» (Ashton 1948: 8-9). This mobility of capital, an important insight, is linked to the entrepreneur as the key to effective deployment of capital: «the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were rich in entrepreneurs, quick to devise new combinations of productive factors, eager to find markets, receptive to new ideas»(p. 11). The overall result -- vastly increased productivity and economic growth -- was no «calamity», despite severe short-run dislocation and suffering, but an extension of well-being in the face of potentially disastrous rapid population growth (Asthon 1948: 161).

4The themes of phased development, venturesome use of capital, technological innovation and economies of scale by entrepreneurs, and the benefits of industrialism for growing populations were developed by other economic hi storians. W. W. Rostow put forward a general stage model based on the British experience, which he then applied to other national economic histories (Rostow 1960 a and b). David Landes rejected Rostow’s «five part taxonomy» as «oversimplifying and over-generalizing», although it possesed «the virtue of reaffirming the distinctive historical importance of the industrial revolution in the history of any economy» (Landes 1969: 229). Landes pointed out (as did Gerschenkron, 1962) that each national industrial «break through» was specific to itself, because of earlier national economic history and the particular mix of physical and social raw materials. Britain’s lead over France in the first industrialization, and Germany’s eventual overtaking of Britain in later industrialization were, Landes believes, due to entrepreneurial-technological superiority growing out of favorable national social conditions.

5In the past fifteen years, local studies of economic change and close analyses of processes other than industrial concentration on the national level have shown that neither stages separated by a sharp break nor innovation by individual leaders are adequate conceptualizations of industrialization. French, German and Italian industrialization, when examined in their own context, not in comparison to a highly aggregated and abstracted «critical break-through» model of the British textile industry, display little in common with it. Indeed, British industrialization, once the surface is scratched, looks quite different too.

6The research which has cracked the older perceptions emphasizes the extensive development of industry before the factory, the changing organization of capital, the long-term process of proletarianization: nineteenth century transformations which were a concentration of forces and resources already long in motion. Industrialization was less a break, more a continuous process resulting from the interactions of earlier structural changes. The large scale process is best understood not by observing aggregate change, but by disaggregative analysis which focuses on smaller geographic units, breaks out of the chronological stage conceptualization, and looks at relationships between and among factors. The present paper is a small step in this direction: it takes one set of relationships in the process of industrial capitalist change––the spatial distribution and concentration of labor and capital––and sketches a common pattern in these relationships in the cases of Lyon and Milan and their regions.

New Findings

7Three new foci of research -- protoindustrialization, the region as unit of analysis, and labor force formation -- which have contributed to the reinterpretation of industrial change put forward here, will first be discussed. The Lyon case then will be briefly reviewed. Milan’s economic development will be more fully discussed in comparative perspective. The conclusion points out the common aspects in the two cases.

8The recent articulation of economic and demographic history in the work of Mendels (1972, 1978, 1981) and others (Deyon, 1979, Deyon and Mendels, 1981) has defined and refined the concept of protoindustrialization. Charles Tilly proposes a broad and dynamic definition of protoindustrialization in his paper prepared for the Eigth International Congress of Economic History (1982): «the increase in manufacturing activity by means of the multiplication of very small producing units and small to medium accumulations of capital. Negatively, it consists of the increase in manufacturing without large producing units and great accumulations of capital» (C. Tilly 1981: 8). This open ended definition is adopted here, for its simplicity and its problematic view of the connection of protoindustrialization with peasant agriculture and extra regional markets. The interpretation of Mendels, and Deyon and Mendels, that the first European industrialization used rural labor and was located outside the old major urban centers, is taken as given.

9A description from Milward and Saul sums up this European pattern of industrialization:

«Its most general aspect everywhere was the part-time employment of the rural labour force in manufacturing activities carried on in their own homes... It is impossible not to be struck by the extraordinary growth of spinning and weaving in the countryside of many European areas. In some areas, the manufacture of iron products, toys or watches developed in the same way, but textiles, whether of linen, wool or the newfangled cotton were the typical rural product. The technological transformations which initiated the Industrial Revolution in Britain were heavily concentrated in these rural textile industries and their development on the continent may therefore be seen as the precursor of the Industrial Revolution there rather than the older «manufactures».». (Milward and Saul 1973: 93-94).

10The description is rich and accurate, but Milward and Saul find the origins of protoindustrialization unclear and do not link it to later industrial changes or take account of its significance for the timing of the proletarianization of rural workers. Ashton, too, had noted how important was the «domestic system of industry» in eighteenth century Britain, but concluded that the concept «is misleading, for the chief characteristic of these trades is that they conformed to no single system of organization» (Ashton 1948: 49). The relationship of the increasing mobility of capital and the flexible, somewhat unsystematic character of the domestic «system» is not addressed, nor the possibility that both are linked to the limits of protoindustry’s ability to control labor. There is no continuity for Ashton between this earlier manufacturing system and industrialism. Rather, a preindustrial «before» stage and industrial «after» stage succeeded each other. The distracting fact of widespread domestic industry is not seen as a problem to be explained because it confounds the two. stage theory.

11Landes is much more sensitive to the importance of protoindustry. He sees it as evidence of a «freedom to adjust and innovate» in which, his account goes, technicians and entrepreneurs could flourish and eventually «leap to the «higher» mode of production» (Landes 1969: 45, 55). Landes also notes that English rural craft workers were being proletarianized (pp. 43-44) but he does not explore the implications of this for labor as a factor of production and as a class. Rather he turns to the «supply side: the conditions that made possible the devising of new methods and their adoption by industry» (Landes 1969: 60), as a way to understand why, although protoindustry developed in many areas, only in Lancashire, only in the cotton industry, were the limits of the system overcome. Landes’injection of individual leadership into the dialectic dynamics of industrial change addresses the problem of why Britain was first but it does not offer a key to generalizable process. His emphasis on the new organization of production, the factory as a «bridge between invention and innovation» moreover, evokes discontinuity and breaks rather than connections (Landes 1969: 122).

12A second major reorientation has emerged from local regional studies. The regional geography has been in France a traditional framework for geographical scholarship. One has but to mention the name of Raoul Blanchard (who wrote both about northern France, La Flandre, 1907, and about the south, his multivolume Alpes Orientales, 1938-1956) to be reminded of this very fertile tradition. But the integration of regional geography with the history of industrial change and labor force formation is more recent. Dalmasso’s study of Milan and Lombardy includes a significant historical dimension; studies by historians such as Trenard (1972) and Lequin (1977) place the city, with its human component, in the region with its shifting economic relationships, differentiation of activities between city and country, central metropolis and smaller regional cities. Interdependence of cities and their region was not simply a function of the central location of capital and its institutions.

13Finally, a new focus on migration, labor force formation, and the «making» of an urban working class has revealed heterogeneity, flux and surprising reversals in the directions of development as well as in collective consciousness and action. There are several important points to note here. The first is that many rural to urban migrants had experienced wage work –– proletarianization –– and manufacturing activity before their movement to cities or into factories (Lequin, 1977: 45, 152 and passim). Second is the proletarianization in the city of artisanal or skilled workers, losing their monopoly of skills and control over the pace and organization of their work (Johnson, 1979; Hanagan, 1980). Third are gender-linked and family-shaped differences in the timetable and experience of proletarianization, labor force participation and the organization of work (Tilly and Scott, 1978; L. Tilly 1980, 1982).

14These three foci of research are all interconnected. They can be subsumed as one problem: the regional arena of movements of capital and labor to meet and overcome problems of labor supply and discipline engendered by increasing demand. From this perspective capital is less innovative and intentional, more reactive to labor. Outcomes are a consequence of this dialectical relationship.

Lyon and the Lyonnais

15Although the ruralization of Lyon's industry lagged chronologically behind other cities, Lyon experienced «the hemorrhage... the departure to the hinterland of their workshops and looms» as did other European industrial cities (Deyon 1979: 1 1; Cayez 1981: 95). Cayez speaks of Lyon as one of the «rare large French cities, probably the only one» which was still an industrial city at the end of the Old Regime. Certain rural industries, such as cotton, linen and wool spinning and weaving, and hatmaking, had earlier developed a protoindustrial connection with merchant putters-out in Lyon; only in the nineteenth century, however, did the silk industry begin to put out work to looms outside the center city. About 42 percent of the region’s silk looms in 1833 were in the city proper (22 percent were in the close-in suburbs); at midcentury, the proportions were 30 percent urban, 21 percent suburban (Cayez 1981: 98); almost half the region’s silk weaving looms were outside the metropolis. An urban-rural division of labor had developed, with skilled, specialized, high fashion weaving done in the city and its close suburbs; cruder plain weaving done in the more distant country-side. In the nineteenth century system, merchant-manufacturers could simply cut off orders to their relatively distant rural weavers, who owned their own looms, when there wasn't enougli work to go around. The protoindustrial organization and ruralization of silk weaving, by keeping workers in rural areas, prepared the way for the decentralization of factory silk spinning and weaving in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the changeover of Lyon’s urban center to activities supplementary to weaving, and new products such as chemicals and machines (Cayez 1981: 102).

16Yves Lequin describes industrialization and urbanization in the Lyonnais region (taken broadly and loosely) as linked in a dialectical relationship. Around 1850, he writes, St-Etienne and Lyon were «cities without frontiers... (which) attracted, to be sure, but more important, they projected their dynamism frequently on very distant villages; more often than men moving towards industry, jobs sought out men» (Lequin 1977; 43). The region had a «working class already strongly marked by diversity; there were few clearcut choices made between agricultural and industrial work but rather all the intermediate situations; the workers, here and there, owned the means of production; changing activity did not mean geographic mobility, and industry moved toward its labor force at least as often as the peasant to the factory; urban centers themselves put down the roots of their industrial development in the country-side» (Lequin 1977: 45). «Thus, at least until the middle of the nineteenth century, the regional form of industrialization was only sometimes characterized by the formation of large units of production and the geographic concentration of the labor force» (Lequin 1977: 52).

17The Fabrique of the Lyon silk industry, based on hand-weaving in the city of fibers reeled, thrown and spun else-where, and the mining and machine industry of the Stephannois continued their old organization and prosperity, active and growing until the late 1870s. The patterns of the Fabrique organization «urban heart and rural swarming (essaimage), concentration of the administration of the business and scattering of the manufacturing» were reproduced in other sectors. Around 1880, (1876-1886) there was a severe depression which hit the silk manufacture in Lyon especially, and also provoked a crisis in the St-Etienne region.

18A «restructuring of the Fabrique followed, involving a break with former organization and modes of behavior of long standing» (Lequin 1977; 84). Power looms replaced the hand looms, weaving moved from the city of Lyon to smaller cities in the region. New specialties grew in the city: chemicals, for example. Previously scattered machine works were attracted to Lyon and to St-Etienne, with mechanization and growth in scale. For Lyon, this involved building railroad cars and constructions, trains, bicycles and eventually automobiles and electrical equipment. Interestingly, Lequin concludes that there was a kind of stability of industrial areas, if not of sectoral activity: «a global industrial map in 1914 would not differ greatly from one of 1850, with some minor exceptions» (Lequin 1977: 104).

19From declining centers of metallurgy, nail and tool making, the industrial labor force moved with its jobs. «In part, it is industry that feeds industry» (Lequin 1977: 135). From areas in which protoindustrial production had prevailed, women and children migrated to new textile mills. The gathering together of women and girls, «for whom industrial work was only an entr'acte in their agricultural destiny» made possible the move of silk weaving to smaller cities (Lequin 1977: 136).

20The desertion of the agricultural countryside came in the mid-to-late 1890s (Lequin 1977: 143). But, again a paradox: «people did not leave agriculture (and the countryside) but the countryside (and frequently, rural industry) for the city [Lyon]... [and] the urban service sector [which] absorbed an increasing proportion of the newly arrived migrants» (Lequin 1977: 152). And finally, «the working class of the 1900s is a conjuncture of three streams: the remnants of the old traditional sectors, the flower of the «industrial revolution», and tertiary workers called forth by the precocious sophistication of the regional economy....The successive phases of economic development telescoped on themselves to shape the characteristic working class: the industrial proletariat was hardly visible before it began to dissolve in salaried service workers» (Lequin 1977: 158). In Lyon, a diversification of the working class went along with the decline of the Fabrique, a «tendency to crumbling sectors» rather than the classic mode of «the construction of a class with industrialization» (Lequin 1977: 186). The consequence of the geographic redistribution of economic activity and classes by the eve of 1914 was a less numerous industrial working class in the city proper, replaced by service workers and the administrative workers of industry, and strongly working class suburbs, the site of chemical and machine plants and working class housing (Lequin 1977: 201-203). The silk and certain aspects of the metallurgical and machine industry were decentralized in smaller regional cities.

21An aspect of Lyonnais development to which Lequin devotes relatively less attention is investment and capital. He notes that Lyon capital adapted itself to changes in the market by «continual outgrowths of formerly encapsulated industries» (Lequin 1977: 111). Another scholar of Lyon and the Lyonnais fills in the picture. Pierre Léon, citing the research of Jean Bouvier, remarks in his important and suggestive article on the region lyonnaise in French economic and social history, that the «Grand capitalisme lyonnais» was associated with large scale commerce in silk, banks, and transport. In the early nineteenth century, it was bursting with creativity and innovativeness, and enjoyed an «uncontested primacy in the national economic picture» (Léon 1967: 44-45).

22The new industrial centers of the Nord and the East offered competition in the 1860s and 1870s, and by the end of the’70s and into the’80s there came a series of business and banking crises, as much an effect than a cause, argues Leon, of the migration of capital to Paris. «Whatever the reason, from about 1880, the Lyon financial market lost the greater part of its directive role and also its autonomy. From then on, it is Paris which regulates big business; capital flows from Paris» (Leon, 1967: 51-52). Bouvier’s massive study concludes that in the end, «the province bowed to Paris» (Bouvier 1961; 891).

23The general outlines of industrial production and the redistribution of capital and labor in the Lyonnais by about 1914 look like this:

  1. concentration of capital in the regional metropolis and growth of mechanized production in this city and smaller regional cities;
  2. departure of industrial proletarians from the country-side, deindustrialization of formerly industrial rural areas;
  3. replacement of urban artisans and skilled workers by former rural industrial proletarians in new sectors of economic activity;
  4. growth of urban tertiary sector, also fed by migration, and its characteristic labor force;
  5. suburbanization of urban industrial production and workers’ residence;
  6. eventual movement of capital from the region, a contradiction to its industrial destiny.

24Technological change, although present in the process, was not central but auxiliary to the dialectical rhythm of capital concentration and labor redistribution.

Lombardy and Milan

25In order to evaluate how general were these Lyonnais developments, we turn to the case of Milan and its region, Lombardy.

26Immediate differences come to mind. The great wealth of Milan and other Lombard cities based on silk cloth production had declined in the seventeenth century. The center of European silk production moved to Lyon (Sella 1979). A tax farmer from Milan, complaining about the economic problems of the city, gave a rough but correct explanation: «Formerly only here were artificers to be found, but now they have spread all over the world» (quoted in Sella 1979: 104). Only the most costly and luxurious silk products, requiring the greatest skill, remained the province of Milanese weavers.

27Yet historians of the decline of the Lombard cities and of their incomplete recovery in the following century point to a development in common with the Lyonnais: the dispersal of industry in the country-side. The crisis was an urban one, «far from being the vanguard of the modem economy, they [the crities] must be viewed as anachronistic relics of a rapidly fading past» (Sella 1979: 136; see also Caizzi 1958: 7-8). The country-side was resilient, and it proved eventually to be the source of capital and enterprise for northern Italian industrialization. Raw silk and thread production was the fastest growing rural industry; linen and wool were spun and woven in cottages; cotton weaving developed in the Gallarate-Busto Arsizio district; rural mills for grinding grain, crushing ores, producing paper, fulling and dyeing cloth appeared; small metal products like nails and arms were also produced on farms or in tiny rural workshops.



28Milan itself continued to produce silk braid and ribbon in the eighteenth century, but the ruralization of other production continued (Romani 1959: 494-495; Caizzi 1965; 69-70). The city enjoyed a certain prosperity as an administrative capital and as the locus of urban residences of wealthy land owners who were engaged in the trade of agricultural and rural industrial products (especially raw silk). In the second half of the century, larger scale cotton spinning and pottery factories, investments sometimes of non-Milanese entrepreneurs, began to go up in Milan, in Como, in Monza, as well as in smaller cities (Caizzi 1965: 99, 109, 111, 135, 138, 140-141; Romani 1959: 537, 541). The period of the French Revolution and Napoleone with French occupation and, later, a satellite republic in Lombardy, were years of stagnation or worse.

29Once Austrian hegemony was restored, however, silk worm cultivation and the production of raw silk reemerged vigorously. There was much pent up demand in England and on the continent, where trade had been hindered by the blockade and Continental System. New Austrian regulations also promoted cotton manufacture, still organized primarily on a domestic basis (Romani 1960:677, 679).

30The form and organization of economic activity in Austrian Lombardy, whether agriculture or manufacturing, can be neatly compartmentalized in geographic terms. In the mountains there were small peasant family holdings, combined with common meadows, on which cattle, chestnuts and cereals were raised. This was primarily subsistence agriculture. In the hill zone lived tenant share farmers (mezzadri) with family-run leased small holdings on which mulberry trees, grapes and cereals were raised. The mulberry leaves were fed to silkworms to produce a cash crop, the cocoons from which silk was reeled. The landlord’s share was the cocoons and grapes, and small workrooms or reeling mills were established on estates to forward the commerce of silk. A greatly contrasting organization of agriculture was characteristic of the wide plain of the Po River. There irrigated fields on large farms, with wage-earning work forces, grew cereals and rice, and produced cheese for urban markets (Greenfield 1965: 9-33; Romani 1960: 689-691; Ciasca 1923: 362-365; Milone 1955: 83-115).

31Manufacturing was located primarily in the hill area, and on the northern edge of the plain, whether in towns or in the country-side. Romani (1960: 693) notes (speaking of the early years of the Restoration) that urban activity was relatively little changed over the prerevolutionary period, except in certain special products such as carriages, but there was a rapid increase in rural silk relling and throwing, with some increase as well in silk spinning and weaving. Mining and metallurgy, located near the mines, in Brescia, Bergamo, Como, were in decline, however. The arms manufacture of Lecco was the only branch of the industry still relatively active (Greenfield 1965: 90-92). Greenfield sums it up this way:

«In this middle belt were the outlets of the mountain valleys and their mines and the entries to the Alpine passes, and here were the cities that were the centers of trade and the reservoirs of capital--Brescia, Bergamo, Como, Milan. In this belt most of the silk was grown; and water power was provided by the canals and rivers flowing from the mountains into the Plain...

To the mind of the reader familiar with economic history,, the «manufacturing region» thus defined will not suggest the visible signs of the presence or absence of industry familiar to us--neither smoke stacks nor even great mills, not to mention milltowns and «black districts.» Except for the silk reeling mills that were springing up on farms or collecting in the country towns, it would generally be necessary to go into the peasant’s cottage or to watch the string of horses or wagons on the road to town to detect the presence of industrial activity, for the manufacturing industry of the region was widely and increasingly diffused through the countryside as the part-time occupation of the peasants and their families.... Nevertheless the region embraced a very considerable industrial activity.»
(Greenfield 1965:82-83).

32By the 1840s, silk production had increased greatly and exports were more likely to be in some refined form than earlier. Silk weaving, although always much less important than in Lyon, also increased, mostly in Como and Milan. In 1816, there had been only about 500 looms in Milan; by 1844, the number was 4.000 with an equal number in Como (Greenfield 1965: 84-86; Romani 1960; 702; Caizzi 1965: 230-239; Ciasca 1923; 372-373). Numerous new cotton spinning mills were installed in the early Restoration years in Busto Arsizio, Gallarate, Monza, Solbiate, all in the Alto Milanese (Romani 1960: 694; Caizzi 1965: 210-216; Greenfield 1965: 86-88; Ciasca 1923: 375). Linen and wool weaving and much cotton weaving remained primarily domestic industry. Larger scale metallurgy also appeared: the Falck iron and steel mills, an installation of quite a different order than the old metallurgy, were established in 1840 at Dongo by an Italian-Alsatian partnership. In the late’40s, the machine industry concentrated more often in Milan, with plants that manufactured textile machines, track and rolling stock for the new railroads (Caizzi 1965:247-254).

33All the textile branches employed women, but the new large plants concentrated young women and children in disciplined shops working long hours. Cesare Correnti remarked in alarm that «the degradation of the race is evident in several Lombardese industrial districts in which it is difficult to find healthy active young men for military service» (Romani 1960: 717-718). It seems likely that new factory-industrialized labor of some family members took the place of earlier home protoindustry and made it possible for share farmers to remain in agriculture in a period of low prices. Both protoindustry and the early mills paid wages inadequate for the reproduction of workers; hence they were dependent on a labor force that was partially fed at least by another economic activity, the family farm. Greenfield sees that «the manufacture of Lombardy grew directly out of its agriculture; the atmosphre that its industrial life breathed, high and low, was that of a community of agriculturalists» (Greenfield 1965: 92-93). He also noted the diffused nature of industrialized manufacture, carried on mostly in small places «as supplement to agricultural occupations.» Even though silk reeling, winding, throwing mills were increasing in number and scale, the site of mills was near the source of supply, farms with mulberry trees, rather than in cities. Industrialized cotton spinning was also concentrating not in the major cities but in the close-in Alto Milanese where water power was available. Greenfield did not see the significance of the low price of wage labor as a boon to manufacturing, whether protoindustrial or factory-based in Lombardy in this period. Thus the early textile industrialization of Lombardy took place on the base of rural industry that had developed following the urban crisis in manufacturing of the seventeenth century (Sella 1979:137).

34The Revolution of 1848, in which the Five Day Uprising of Milan expelled the Austrians from their city, broke the impetus of economic change in Lombardy. Austrian policy became more restrictive in the new Habsburg restoration. Even more damaging, however, was the cataclysmic mulberry tree disease which began in 1854 to destroy the silk worm’sfood. A twenty year crisis in the major agricultural cash crop of Lombardy began (Romani 1960: 733-734; Galli 1967). The last years of Austrian domination and the first years of Unification were difficult ones in Lombardy and Milan. The wealth produced by raw silk exports was drastically reduced and little new economic activity replaced it, for precisely that agricultural export had promoted earlier investment and profit.

Industry in Milan and Lombardy after Unification

35In the 1860s post unification period, there were few changes and little progress in the metal and machine industries. Around 1870 and after, the iron industry of Lombardy entered a crisis aggravated by the smallness and dispersion of units, transport difficulties, and financial and technical backwardness. From then until 1886, a restructuring of the industry proceeded «from a patriarchal regime of small plants to -- overall, and not without a hard selection process -- a truly industrial regime.» (Scagnetti 1923, quoted in Davite 1972: 337). The engineering sector showed great dynamism, especially in Milan, but also in smaller cities such as Legnano where demand for agricultural and textile machines led to new industries (Davite 1972: 338-339).

36Although Milan's population grew in the 1870s and the construction industry prospered with city «urban renewal» projects, other industrial growth was minimal. Luzzatto, in his survey of the Lombard postunification economy, wrote:

«Outside of the machine building shops... founded in earlier decades, except for a paper mill and very few other factories, Milan did not have large plants, which in this period were preferably built where they could make use of water power and an inexpensive workforce» (Luzzatto 1923: 468).

37By 1875, recovery from the worst of the silk crisis was underway in Lombardy, opening a decade of «development, slow and oscillating at first, more rapid sure and almost continuous during the last five years» (Luzatto 1923: 465). Milan businesses were small, as a report on the occasion of the National Exposition of 1881 pointed out:

«an industry of small owners... who build their business by ceaseless work with their own hands, acting at the same time as directors, engineers and bookkeepers of their shops. In Milan, perhaps more than anywhere else, there are a crowd of small and medium sized businesses modestly hidden but feverishly active»(Saldini 1881: 365-366).

38The city produced many consumer products, which the engineer and entrepreneur Giuseppe Colombo saw as its industrial destiny -- «to satisfy the many exigencies of civil life, the increased prosperity, the refinement produced by the diffusion of culture into all social classes» (Colombo 1881: 40). Colombo, citing Milan's lack of adequate power sources, did not foresee preeminence for it in large scale industry.

39Nevertheless, even as he wrote these words he also praised the large machine shops already in place. Railroad building was enlarging shipping and transport possibilities for all branches of manufacture. That railroad net (connected to the other side of the Alps through the Saint Gothard Pass in 1882) attracted new compagnies as well as heralding continuing prosperity for the Milanese engineering firms which produced railroad cars and locomotives. Twenty-one businesses incorporated and set up headquarters in Milan between 1882 and 1887. Some of their names are still familiar: Pirelli (earlier a joint stock company, incorporated in 1883) and the Edison system for example. The city’s ability to attract new business continued throughout the century. The move to Milan of the Falck Metal Works in 1898 was implicitly linked by Falck himself to the available transport system for shipping in the iron, shipping out finished products (Frumento, 1952: 128). Although Colombo believed in 1881 that the future of heavy industry in Milan was limited, he personally was instrumental in promoting the Sociétà Edison’s first electric generating station in Italy, which came to provide a reliable new source of power to the city. Meanwhile, the tariff of 1878 had the effect of encouraging cotton spinning activity and doubled the number of spindles of the industry in Lombardy.

40In 1886, the agricultural crisis which had already struck most of Europe reached Italy. A tariff war between Italy and France was especially damaging in Lombardy, with its raw silk directed to the Lyonnais and butter and cheese to all of France. New plant construction ended, and a financial crash followed in 1893. The cotton and silk textile industries of the hilly areas of Lombardy avoided the worst problems, for a tariff in 1887 protected their products. As the site of organizational headquarters of much of this textile industry, Milan’s economic position shared some of its brighter aspect in the generally depressed Italian economy. The metal industry was also protected by the tariff, and importation of scrap iron facilitated the location of iron and steel plants in areas removed from the mines (which in any case, were not very productive by this time.) New important plants were built in urban areas, although small or middle sized units continued to dot the préalpine hills. The reconstruction of the metal industry reduced the number of units by half in short order. New large works were established in the late 1880s in Milan, Monza, Saronna, while the older plants in Legnano expanded in the same period (Davite 1972: 337, 341). On the other hand, there was little work for Milan’s engineering firms for the period around 1890 when government orders for railroad stock were not forthcoming.

41The nationwide depression lasted until about 1896. In 1898, commercial relations with France were restored and a period of great economic growth, lasting to about 1908, ensued. The metal and engineering industries in both Milan and Lombardy boomed as a consequence of free metal imports and demand for the replacement of industrial plant equipment purchased in the earlier rapid growth period of the 1880s (Fenoaltea 1973: see also Davite 1972). Electric power also contributed to growth in these industries, while a new railroad line through the Simplon pass and the return of the railways to state management brought new orders for rolling stock and tracks. Of the 16.000 engineering workers in Lombardy en 1901, 72 per cent were in the zone of Milan, as was three quarters of the motor power in the engineering industry (Davite 1972: 351-352). Milanese companies supplied equipment for the expansion of the tram network in urban Lombardy and several new compagnies appeared in time to be in on the first automobile boom.

42Meanwhile, however, Europe as a whole had entered an overproduction crisis in cotton textiles, and this time Lombardy’s expansionary energy was not able to resist the down-turn. From 1908 until the eve of the worldwar, Lombardy suffered from the collapse of cotton firms, reduced production in cotton textiles, and a silk industry that also was hurt by foreign competition (Luzzatto 1923: 486). At about the same time (the second half of 1907), a collapse of metal prices throughout Europe hurt that industry, and in 1908-1909 there was a sharp drop in railroad material construction. The automobile industry also had its first crisis in 1907 (Davite 1972: 356-358). Although there were some areas of recovery by 1914, the immediate prewar period was not an expansionary, or even a prosperous one for Milan and Lombardy. Companies in the metal and engineering sectors used this time to combine and concentrate; large new plants were built in the suburbs of Milan, and in nearby cities (Pirelli 1906; Breda and Falck 1908). By the eve of the war, the industry in the region was «decisively big business» (Davite 1972: 366).

43In Milan and Lombardy, as in Lyon and the Lyonnais, there was (1) an initial movement of manufacture to the country-side (in Milan, this had occurred more than a century and a half before that of Lyon); (2) development of protoindustry in rural areas where a labor force was available, partly employed (or in households partly employed) by agriculture; (3) growth of industrialized textile production in regional towns and cities; (4) the development of new industries (engineering in both cases) in the dominant city.

The Evolution of the Milanese Labor Force

  • 2 The statistical material on labor force is drawn from the published reports done by the city of Mi (...)

44The structure of the labor force in Milan from 1881 to 1911 followed the broad lines of the Lyonnais pattern2. There was a proportionate (and in the case of domestic and personal service, an absolute) decrease of the numbers of persons employed in «old-fashioned» services. There was also a proportionate decrease of persons employed in small-scale poorly capitalized industry. On the other hand, there was a great increase in employment in heavy industry, construction, and utilities.

45In 1881, 46 per cent of the total labor force was employed in commerce, professions and services, 47 per cent in manufacturing. However, the tertiary sector of Milan in 1881 was preindustrial. Huge numbers of persons were employed in personal and domestic services, and in public accomodations, «old fashioned» services. Domestic and personal service was the largest single labor force category in the city that year; it employed more than 20 per cent of the labor force.

46The manufacturing industries which employed most workers in 1881 were small scale. The largest numbers of workers were employed in garment making, which was to a large degree carried out in small shops or homes. A 1893 survey of industrial plants in Milan with over ten employees accounted for only 10 per cent -- 3.000 workers out of perhaps 30.000 garment workers in the city. Small shops for working wood, straw, leather and fur, and food processing contained another 16 per cent of the labor force. Even though there were several very large machine shops, two paper mills and a pottery factory, the work experience of the majority of Milanese in 1881 was outside factory industry.

47The 1901 occupational census reports show some changes. Then 51 per cent of the labor force was employed in manufacturing, 45 per cent in total services. The largest single occupational category was still domestic and personal service, but its proportion of the labor force had slipped by almost five points since 1881. The garment industry was still the second largest employer of workers, but its share had also declined, from 15,4 percent to 12,6 percent of the labor force. The industries which were growing rapidly, with more than twice as many persons employed in them in 1901 as in 1881, were metallurgy and engineering, chemicals, rubber and glass: in the tertiary sector, utilities, transportation and communictions, public accommodations were the leading employers. The largest numeric increase of workers had occurred in metallurgy and engineering.

48The 1911 occupational census reflects the economic transformation of the city in terms of scale of enterprise and productive capacity already described. The manufacturing sector employed 55 percent of the labor force en 1911. The largest number of workers were in the metal and engineering industries; the work force of this industry had increased by 83 percent since 1901. Garment making still stood second in number of workers, but this industry had increased its work force by only 22 percent in the decade. The other industry where employment had increased very rapidly was construction, with an 85 percent increase.

49The tertiary sector, which in 1911 employed 43 percent of the labor force, showed a shift toward employment in modern services: utilities, transportation, communications. Domestic and personal service workers were still the largest group of workers in the tertiary sector, but the absolute number had gone down by 11 percent since 1901. In the same years, employment in the modern services had doubled.

50Because it was an urban center populated by prosperous potential consumers, Milan continued to employ large numbers of workers in services and commerce, but modem services eventually came to predominate. Because Milan continued to be a center for producing them. For these reasons, and because space for industrial expansion within the city limits ran out, the Milanese urban economy was never wholly dominated by heavy industry. By 1911 the changes in the labor force of the city mirrored the deep changes in Milan’s economic activity, but as in Lyon, the industrial working class was being replaced by service workers almost as soon as it emerged.

51As in Lyon, the Milanese working class of the 1900s had been constituted from three streams; «traditional» consumer manufacturing and craft workers; workers in newly industrialized sectors, such as engineering; and tertiary (transportation, communication and clerical) workers whose positions were based on Milan's role as center of a regional economy as much as industrial city.

Nativity of the Labor Force and Migration

52A static «snapshot» picture of the place of birth of the labor force is available only for 1881 and 1901. Between these two censuses, there was an across-the-board reduction of local born workers in all categories of employment. The working population, as is the case in cities growing by migration, increasingly showed the effects of that migration. Non-local-born workers were highly concentrated in the (very small) primary and the (very large) tertiary sector. Workers in manufacturing were much more likely to be local-born than workers in the other two sectors. Overall, in 1901 the manufacturing sector was 48 percent local bom; the metal and machine industry, 49 percent. The respective figures for 1901 were both 41 percent. The respective figures for 1901 were both 41 percent. Although more than half its workers were not born in Milan, manufacturing had much smaller proportions of migrants than did the services.

53Since manufacturing workers were also younger than service workers, this suggests that by this period, at the end of the century, some manufacturing workers at least may have been the second generation of an earlier migration, the sons and daughters of migrants in the 1860s or later. (There are no quantitative sources for this earlier migration, and I have found no descriptive evidence.) Within the manufacturing sector, there were some exceptions to this generalization. These were the construction industry, which most studies of urban migration have shown to be a major employer of male migrants, and the rubber industry, a new industry (Pirelli), which also employed many non-local-born workers.

54Professional, commerce and service workers were much less likely to be local born than were manufacturing workers. Persons working in public accommodations (restaurants, hotels) and domestic and personal service workers were, by a large majority (70 and 73 percent respectively) not born in Milan.

  • 3 The annual report of the Anagrafe was presented in tabular form in the Milan statistical service p (...)
  • 4 Occupational titles by themselves are only rough indicators of skill level: hence the skill classi (...)

55Some understanding of these characteristics of occupational groups as well as other patterns of migration can be gained in the analysis of year by year registrations to the Anagrafe, the population register3. Comparative data on the occupations reported by migrants are available only from 1894 on. Male workers were the largest category of immigrants over the entire period, but in 1911, the working class share of the migration was ten percent lower than it had been in 1894. White collar migration gained almost ten percent in the period. The relative proportions of skilled and unskilled workers migrants was reversed, with the skilled contributing the higher percentage to the migration at the later period4. Women’s occupations confirm the male patterns. The «housewife» category moved up ten percent over the period, reflecting the higher proportion of skilled worker and white collar migrants with wives who did not have to work. The commune of Milan was becoming less predominantly working class (see also Montemartini 1903; DeMaddalena 1961; Consonni and Tonon 1977). The main reason for this was the increasingly common location of manufacturing plants in the suburban area around the city and rapidly growing working class residential neighborhoods in the same districts.

56The place of birth of migrants to Milan can only be imperfectly known with the aggregated data and rough classification of the Dati Statistici. The proportion of migrants who were born in the province of Milan itself was over 50 per cent of the migration in 1888, 1896, and 1897; 40 per cent or above in other years of the 1890s and up to 1905; falling below 30 per cent only in 1906 and after. The 1901 and 1911 census reports give more detailed categories of place of birth: provincie for Lombardy, and compartimenti for the rest of Italy. In 1901, 32 per cent of the adult population of Milan was born in the city; in 1911, 21 per cent. The per cent of total population born in other communes of the province of Milan was 22 per cent en 1901, 19 per cent in 1911. Most of the inhabitants of Milan had been born in Lombardy (including Milan itself) in 1901 (83 per cent) and 1911 (77 per cent). Although after 1905, the Milanese migration came less often from the province of Milan, it still was composed, for the largest part, of persons born within 50 miles of the city.

57In 1901 and 1911, most residents of Milan who were not born in the province of Milan came from southern Lombardy, the Po Valley agricultural area. In 1901, 26 per cent of Lombardy natives came from the south (Pavia, Cremona, Mantua); in 1911, the figure was 30 per cent. This increase in the proportion of Milanese residents who were natives of southern Lombardy came at the expense of residents born in the northern provinces (Como, Bergamo, Brescia, Sondrio), and those born in Milan province itself. This strong southern tendency is confirmed by calculating the ratio between Milan inhabitants born in a given province to the population of that province. The attraction ratio of Milan to its own province went down sharply between 1901 and 1911, that of Pavia went sharply up, by 16 percent. The Como ratio also increased, but more moderately (ten percent). This suggests that the migrants of the 1890s and the first decade of the twentieth century included an increased number of former wageearning agricultural workers who were the majority of workers in the Pavese or Cremonese. However, the apparent increase of migrants from southern Lombardy between 1901 and 1911 may also have been simply an artifact of the enormous growth of the city’s working class northern suburban belt and the industrial cities of Sesto San Giovanni and Monza, in which new migrants from the north were likely to settle (Coletti 1970: 107-109; see also Consonni and Tonon 1977: 193-208).

  • 5 There were other factors, such as ease of transportation links, in Milan’s relative success in tra (...)

58The period of urban industrial growth at the end of the nineteenth century, then, saw a vast movement of workers from rural areas and small towns to larger towns and cities in Lombardy. Silk reeling, throwing, twisting, spinning and weaving around Como, the cotton textile industry in the hill towns of the Alto Milanese and the metal-mechanical industry of Milan attracted former rural workers. How many of these workers had worked in rural industry or in smaller settings earlier? Although no quantitative response can be offered to this question, rural industry atrophied and disappeared; its workers either returned to agriculture or migrated to the new urban industrial zones in Milan and smaller cities. As in the case of the Lyonnais, industrial workers followed their jobs into urban industry. In Milan and Lombardy as in Lyon and the Lyonnais both industry and workers moved, in a systematic but disjunctured temporal pattern5.

Capital Concentration

59This increasing scale of industry in Lombardy and Milan reflects the concentration of capital in manufacturing by the end of the century. This offers an especially sharp contrast to the first half of the century when, as Greenfield put it, «the bulk of the accumulated wealth in the community was invested in real estate and the operations of agriculture, and was in the possession of the proprietors of land» (Greenfield 1965: 128). He cites Stefano Jacini’s calculation that in 1857, the entire capital employed in Lombard commerce and industry, less wages, equaled 380 million Austrian lire. The capital value of real property, on the other hand, was 2.424.444.000 lire. Mortgages were the chief negotiable instruments used as security for loans, whether from the Monte delle Sete (Silk Bank) of Milan, founded in 1836, or the Cassa di Risparmio (Savings Bank) of the Lombard Provinces, founded in 1823. Joint stock companies were few, and limited liability corporations even fewer. In 1845, there were 27 stock companies in Milan, of which eight were true limited companies (Greenfield 1965: 131). According to Luzzatto, in 1859, there were only 31 limited liability corporations in all of Lombardy. Although savings deposits in the Cassa di Risparmio increased seven fold between 1850 and 1860, most of the money was loaned to agricultural enterprise (Luzzatto 1923: 456).

60In the entire decade of the ᾿60s there were only ten incorporations in all of Lombardy. There was a visible increase in the establishment of corporate business in the early 1870s, however, when 14 new companies were founded. There was an influx of business headquarters into Milan, and new banks were founded and grew quickly (Luzzatto 1923: 462-463). Two banks of the Credit Mobilier type were founded in Milan, 1861, by French and Swiss capitalists. Milan was becoming a center of wealth and business «comparable, though on a smaller scale to European metropolises like Vienna and Paris» (Luzzatto 1923: 470).

61In the period after the tariff of 1887 (with its encouragement of textile investment) was passed, Milan was the market in which investment capital was loaned and borrowed (Luzzatto 1923: 477). Slowed down by depression at the end of the'80s and early'90 s, Milan funds, now flowing into sectors other than textiles, became available again in 1894. By 1904-1907, Luzzatto sees the Lombardese economy «decisively assuming a capitalist character; its most important manifestations were mobile credit institutions, an active stock exchange, rapid increase in the number of corporations and the tendency to increasing size of business and industrial concentration» (Luzzatto 1923: 484-485). This concentration, primarily in cotton textile production and engineering, carried over and was intensified after the depression of 1907.

62At the eve of the First World War, Milan had become the «propulsive center» of the nation’s economic life. The proof: its stock market activity, in which stocks valued at 25 billion lire were exchanged, out of the 68 billion exchanged in the whole country; and the number of capitalization of banks and businesses with their headquarters in the city (total capital of these institutions was equal to more than half of the investment capital in the entire kingdom of Italy (Luzzatto: 495).

63Capital concentration moved Milan and Lombardy into a national position of economic leadership in Italy. In the period up to 1914, Milan became the locus of the engineering industry, the headquarters of the textile industry and the financial capital of Italy. Its economy was diverse enough to survive cyclical downturns and its command of capital secure enough to be able to act flexibly in following changes in the market with changes in investment. Here the différence from the development of Lyon is striking. The successful combination of industrial and capital concentration seems to be the major difference in the redistribution of capital and labor leading to the quite different outcomes in economic destiny of Milan and Lyon.


64The comparison of the Lyonnais an Lombardy provides a generalized framework of the process of industrial change which emphasizes spatial redistribution of labor and concentration of capital rather than sharp breaks. Industiralization was not an autonomous urban phenomenon but a reciprocal process of urban change along with agricultural and rural industrial change, and a shifting relationship of metropolis with smaller cities of its region. The impetus of change was not the intentionality of foresightful or innovative capitalists but the reaction of capitalists to problems of labor location and control. In the process, the countryside de-industrialized, the central city extruded older industry into regional cities and itself became a center of capital formation and concentration, an administrative center with a large consumer industry and the locus of a large scale, technically advanced machine industry. Regional hierarchical economic systems were the result. The urban labor force developed from older urban artisanal elements, migrants from industrial work in the countryside who followed textile work into regional cities, machine industry into the center city, and ex-agricultural migrants who entered service jobs in the metropolis.

65By the early twentieth century, these patterns of migration had produced a metropolitan urban center primarily populated by middle class and service workers, while industrial workers clustered in the periphery and suburbs. Each city and region had its particular economic history, its own path of industrialization. Nevertheless, regional patterns of industrialization in nineteenth century Europe involved common aspects of spatial movements of labor and capital concentration.



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1 The author thanks colleagues at Round Table II, Lyon, May, 1981, Professors Jacob Price and Domenico Sella for their comments on an earlier version of this paper. Most of the ideas were discussed with Charles Tilly whose advice was fundamental. C. Tilly and the author are preparing a theoretical paper which compares Lyon and Milan with the cases of Lille/Nord, Manchester/Lancashire and the Westphalia/Rhine/Ruhr complex.

2 The statistical material on labor force is drawn from the published reports done by the city of Milan on the results of the population censuses of 1881, 1901 and 1911 :
Giunta Communale di Statistica. La Popolazione di Milano secondo il Censimento 31 dicembre 1881.Milan, 1883.
Comune di Milano. La Popolazione di Milano secondo il Censimento del 9 febbraio, 1901. Milan: Reggiani, 1903.
Comune di Milano. La Popolazione di Milano secondo il Censimento esequito il 10 giugno 1911. Milan: Stucchi, Ceretti e C., 1919.
The three publications report numbers of workers by occupation, status, sex, age, residence and nativity in industrial categories. Since categories of occupation and industry changed from census to census, occupations were used to regroup into comparable categories across the three censuses. Age, nativity, status and residence information was not available in the same form for every census but was analyzed when it was given and compared when possible. Further information on the censuses and other data gleaned from them can be found in L. Tilly 1974.

3 The annual report of the Anagrafe was presented in tabular form in the Milan statistical service publication, Dati Statistici.

4 Occupational titles by themselves are only rough indicators of skill level: hence the skill classifications used here are very approximate.

5 There were other factors, such as ease of transportation links, in Milan’s relative success in trade and industry. The scheme laid out here is not intended as a comprehensive exploration of Milanese and Lyonnais industrialization. It focuses almost exclusively on three aspects of change: the spatial redistribution of labor, manufacturing, and the concentration of capital.

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