A Brief History of Ferrania, Part 2: 1964-2012
By the 1960s, Ferrania had become a highly respected company, and a major presence in Europe, with consumer products beginning to gain a foothold in the larger market. Ferrania was especially well known, on a global level, for the production of cinema products and film for use by medical professionals.
With this success came the attention of the 3M Corporation in America. In 1964, they acquired Ferrania S.p.A. in a stock purchase valued at $55 million and renamed the company to Ferrania-3M. It was 3M’s largest acquisition in its 62-year history. Josef Kuhn, 3M’s former senior vice president of Engineering, Quality and Manufacturing Services, later said, “Ferrania had excellent technology for filmmaking and coating; better than we had.”
The Ferrania-3M years are remembered by all who worked there as being full of great professional opportunities. 3M fast-tracked the L.R.F. building to allow for extensive research and development, and provided high-quality training and other programs for their new Italian crew. Machinery and processes were upgraded. They introduced the world’s fastest daylight-balanced color transparency film in 1983 - a milestone that was never surpassed. The greatest strides were made in medical X-ray films, including a high-speed film that cut down exposure time and a system that eliminated the need for a darkroom to load and process X-ray film. The campus grew to reach over 500,000 square meters of space across more than 20 buildings.
Ferrania and 3M
Below is a slideshow of found photographs from an unknown Ferrania employee, made during a trip to the U.S. in the mid 60s. The photos show 3M's Los Angeles announcement of the Ferrania purchase, as well as a parade or demonstration that was happening on Hollywood Boulevard during the visit. Click on the sides of image to navigate
This is also the period, however, when the Ferrania brand name quickly disappeared.
3M already had several widely recognized brands, and had little interest in continuing to use a name that did not offer added value to US customers. In a short time, 3M's Scotch brand took over as the main vehicle for consumer film products globally.
“Ferrania had technology and well-educated, good people but taking on Kodak was a big challenge...” said Kuhn at the time. Kodak had a practical monopoly in the US in those days, and it was even rumored that Ferrania-3M moved out of the cinema business rather than compete with the industry giant.
While Ferrania-3M’s coating expertise was a plus, the photographic business struggled with quality issues, and effective marketing eluded them. Meanwhile, other new competitors entered the scene including Britain’s Ilford and Japan’s Fuji. Germany’s Agfa also became a global force in consumer films after years of being largely an “Eastern Bloc” brand.
Ultimately, Ferrania-3M found the greatest success as the largest supplier of private label film to customers around the world. By the 1990s, the only trace that remained of the Ferrania connection was the tiny "Made in Italy" printed on millions of rolls of film and disposable cameras, sold under hundreds of different brands, in supermarket and drugstore chains worldwide.
The final blow to the old Ferrania brand came on November 14, 1995, when 3M announced an unprecedented restructuring of the company. The leadership had decided to spin off its data-storage and imaging businesses into a new company and discontinue its audio and videotape businesses. The new company, Imation, was heavily promoted in the media - an effort to retain its connection with 3M - but film packaging changed once again, putting even more distance between Ferrania and the customer.
The Imation company’s relationship with Ferrania was short-lived, lasting only until 1999 when the Italian operations were sold to an investment company. While this allowed for the Ferrania brand to be resurrected, it was already too late. Digital photography had just begun to eat away at film sales and they lacked sufficient resources and know-how to mount the sort of global marketing campaign that would cut through the dominant voices of Kodak, Fuji, Agfa and Ilford.
Ferrania’s bread and butter? Manufacturing film for other brands...
Throughout the 3M Era, Ferrania built a reputation as the film manufacturer of note for hundreds of grocery and drug store chains, regional brands, and industrial customers. Even a few major brands like Polaroid, Lomography and Konica have, at one time or another, purchased finished film from Ferrania for their own branded products. This business-to-business approach remained the primary focus in the post-Imation years - until the mid-2000s when, almost simultaneously, Apple released its first iPhone and global film sales took a drastic nose-dive.
By 2006, Ferrania was again restructuring, emerging as Ferrania Technologies, which is focused on pharmaceutical products, and spinning off it's new solar panel manufacturing division into Ferrania Solis. These two remain healthy businesses to this day - and our neighbors.
The film factory limped along, finally ending operations in 2010 when the last building was powered down and the doors locked.
FILM Ferrania founder, Nicola Baldini, made these images of the beautifully decaying, art deco-style S.I.P.E. Power Station, built at the beginning of the past century. The plant was taken offline many years ago, but stands today, for just a little while longer, at the entrance to our new home, the L.R.F. building. Click any image to open a fullscreen slideshow
For two solid years, the buildings remained closed and the machines dormant.
Ferrania Technologies began to search for a potential buyer. Many developers expressed interest in the land for other uses, however, the Italian government had taken an interest in Ferrania and wished to keep the campus area available as a manufacturing zone. Regione Liguria, the regional seat of the government, purchased the buildings to prevent them from becoming condos, and, in effect, preserved all of the industrial-scale machinery from being damaged, looted or destroyed.
Time passed and no new buyer was found. Then one day in the autumn of 2012, our founders, Nicola Baldini and Marco Pagni, knocked on the front gate to see if anyone was home...