One of the persons on the frontline in the “age of high-tension”; his work has brought electricity to our large cities with cables of 132,000 and 220,000 volts, and now over 300,000 volts; this year he has scored another success with his transatlantic telegraph cable S. Vincente-Recife.
Why are undersea cables still being laid? Why has radio transmission not dethroned the cable? Why is the transatlantic cable in polythene between S. Vincente and Recife of such importance for the history of long-distance communication, and why it represents a new step towards the future?
Every morning at 8.15 in Via Castel Morrone, in Milan, a tall man dressed in a heavy grey suit, head covered by a soft hat with raised brims and a pleasing and reassuring face like a family doctor leaves his house number 22 and gets into a blue car waiting to take him to the factory. The car departs regularly just before 8.30 – never a minute later – in the direction of Piazzale Loreto. It then passes through the black tunnel under Stazione Centrale, and when it emerges into the light, it turns onto the asphalted Viale Zara to reach the outskirts of the city and then into the countryside towards the grey buildings and the industrial area of Bicocca. The “coachman” gently steers the vehicle with a steady hand down into the little lanes that wind between hedgerows and metal fences, little ditches and country farmyards. The passenger dressed in grey – the man that brought high-tension electricity to New York, the inventor of the “Emanueli cable”, engineer Emanueli – sighs with satisfaction and approval for his “coachman”, for he would never pardon him for racing along a modern asphalt road for the vulgar pleasure of velocity or comfort worthy of the modern driver. He has diligently followed that same old, peripheral route for forty-six years, having fond memories of the journey between Bicocca and Milan Polytechnic, when he would travel in a horse-drawn carriage driven by a real coachman. In those days, the journey was a true voyage between hedgerows and dust, but the daily routine made it a normal transfer between home and work; a routine he still does not want to renounce, although on a modern vehicle. Thus, the changing landscape, the expanding silent suburbs, the industrial landscape on the horizon are as familiar as the shadows and lights of his own home; so familiar that, when opening his office door, Emanueli feels he has not even left home.
In his office, framed under glass and written in large characters is a four-line poem waiting almost to greet him; written by Longfellow, it is entitled “Progress” and summarises the “pleasure of invention”:
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow
is our destined end or way
but to act, that each to-morrow
find us farther than to-day.
Standing in front of this lines which synthesise his cross to bear and his joy, the man in grey, a director of Pirelli Company as well as director of the copper cable and rubber divisions since 1944, removes his soft hat. Calm as someone who needs not wait for life’s “enjoyments” nor “sorrows”, he examines some pieces of rubber, some segments of cable or tyre treads lying on the table in front of him. These are the items that have carried his name into the world since 1918, and for which he is sometimes described by technical journals as a “genius of cables”, a “prince of technicians”.
When hearing these definitions, Emanueli shakes his head and smiles. In fact he has done nothing more than to push himself to go “farther than to-day”, abandoning himself to the pleasure of invention, eager for discovering the significance of things. Indeed, he has the same approach even with his hobbies and is always focused on something “in progress”. Unlike other inventors, he was never interested in novelty but only in the process of discovery, with no “enjoyments”, nor “sorrows”. Some years ago, he went to the seaside and became interested in sailing. Instead of hiring a skipper or buying a sailing manual, he set out to “discover” the laws of sailing by himself; studying the angles of incidence of the winds, he calculated their relation with velocity, writing his findings in a notebook.
In the end he discovered the technique of sailing, which is something that the Phoenicians and the Egyptians already knew and humanity has understood for millennia. But by bringing himself to the same level as the Phoenicians and the Egyptians, he had gone “farther than to-day” and surpassed his own limits. And indeed, this was the only thing that truly interested him.
Years ago one of his “laws” almost entered the world of golf, a sport he dearly loved with the earnestness of a true Englishman. The club in those days did not seem to perform as well as it should have; and so, month after month, he studied the inertia that the spoons and drivers exerted on the ball and had a set of clubs constructed according to the criteria of an “Emanueli law”. These clubs were slightly different from the customary ones, and when on the course, his fellow golfers were amazed by their unusual bill-like shape. “Is that shape so you can hang them up better?”, a young lady commented with a certain impudent innocence. The effect of that comment was that he interrupted his research, and so now we have no “Emanueli law” on the golf course, no laudable scientific principle born from past experience filtered through the rational eye of the dissenting and smiling “genius of cables”.
In 1953 Mr Emanueli celebrates – again, with that slight smile of dissent – his 70th birthday, and the famous cable which despite that smile accompanies his name worldwide celebrates exactly half that age: 35. […]
Due to its construction and functioning, this oil-filled cable eliminated the problem of the ionisation of gaseous films he encountered in 1911 through experiments and technical analyses. A robust conductor, efficient and safe, which transported high voltages into cities and solved the logistic problem of energy distribution. In 1924 experiments were conducted in Brugherio, first with 65,000 volts and later with 132,000 volts. Following an agreement with General Electric Co., in 1927 two American 132,000-volt power lines were installed to supply electricity to New York and Chicago, cities that had already been supplied by Pirelli with normal cables since 1925. These were the largest and most powerful power lines in the world. At the age of 44 Emanueli had won the battle of high-tension, and in the following years he increased the capacity of his cables from 132,000 to 200,000 volts. A large experimental plant was built in Cislago, and in 1936 the high-tension 220,000 volt Inter Paris cable was installed in Paris.
These fundamental innovations brought Luigi Emanueli international renown and generated growth in his sector with the creation of many “contracts” for the construction of similar cables. […]
Having exclusively dealt with cables for the Pirelli Company, in May 1944 Emanueli took on the role of director of the rubber division, and to his great satisfaction he once again found himself starting from zero. Nine years have passed since that date, but his academic rigour and his experiments to perfect the existing technology has left his mark on this sector too. Today there is an “Emanueli test” to determine the hysteresis and the dynamic module of vulcanised rubber and other woven products; another test is used to determine the resistance to repeated lacerations, and results from abrasion trials perfected by Emanueli have given improved results than previous tests for the performance of various rubber mixes to make tyre treads. Amongst his most interesting studies related to tyres are those that led to the production of the “Cinturato” tyre model, a structure combining three fundamental ideas studied for many years by Emanueli: the influence of an inextensible belt on the performance of the tyre tread; the possibility of a radial distribution of cords in the tyre carcass giving greater resistance; the advantages of a particular configuration aimed to diminish the effect of friction between the tyre bead and the wheel rim.
No less interesting were his studies for new models of tyre treads and the fabrication of trapezoidal resistant belts woven from textile or metallic filaments, which were applied in a single layer format in the “Monocord” and “Metalcord” tyre models; photo-elastic tests to improve the external sheathing for drive pulleys for cable-cars; research on the anatomy of the articulations of the foot for the design of insoles for footwear; analysis of factors determining the dynamic characteristics of the tennis ball. Ten years ago, such diverse results would have been sufficient for a biography entitled “Emanueli, or the joy of discovery”. It is indeed the joy of this man in a grey suit, this “genius of cables” who also wanted to reform golf, a man that every day passes through the outskirts of the city, chatting in dialect with the driver “to keep his hand in”, and after having greeted his secretary with a “good morning” in English sits to examine sections of cables in polythene and some tyre treads lying on his table. Despite his dissenting smile, these “things” are what have made him a household name worldwide. These are the things he dialogues with in a measured and low voice, sometimes even in Milanese dialect, but that constantly push him «farther than to-day» and keep him «in progress» even in his leisure time.