Buzz off!

The story of Rinaldo Piaggio, creator of one of Italy’s icons – the Vespa.

Written by Rosie Whitehouse


The Vespa is iconic and brings with it images of Aurdrey Hepburn whizzing around the streets of Rome. Be that as it may, the famous scooter was in fact invented by the Genoese company, Piaggio, in 1946.

Rinaldo Piaggio founded the company in 1884 when he was twenty years old as a luxury-ship-fitting business but, by the turn of the century, the company was making train carriages, goods vans, luxury coaches, trams and trucks. In World War I, it started producing aeroplanes and seaplanes. In 1917 Piaggio bought a new plant in Pisa, and four years later, a small factory in Pontedera. 

Rinaldo had two sons, Enrico and Armando, who inherited the family engineering business when their father died in 1938. In World War II, all the Piaggio factories were destroyed in the Allied bombing and the brothers had to rebuild the business from scratch.

Enrico was quick to see that the dire economic situation, appalling infrastructure and the terrible state of the roads meant people needed a cheap and easy way to get around. He asked aeronautical engineer Corradino D’Ascanio, a helicopter designer, to create a simple and affordable vehicle that both men and women could drive without getting their clothes dirty. Within a few days D’Ascanio had drawings to show Enrico who exclaimed, ‘It looks like a wasp!’  The Vespa, the Wasp, had arrived and the Italian language gained a new word, vespare, meaning to go somewhere on a Vespa. In 1948, the three-wheeler Ape, or Bee, van that you are bound to get stuck behind on the mountain roads was born.

 For more information on Genoa, take a look at our award-winning Liguria guide, the only standalone guide to the region.

Liguria Bradt Travel Guide 3

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