Marco Mocchetti reports on an amazing petrol pump museum in Italy, which is the largest of its sort in the world.
In Italy, near Milan, an ancient villa that was inhabited by a nobleman and ‘Garibaldian’ soldier in the 19th century, now hosts an amazing petrol pump museum with more than 8,000 exhibits. The fascinating Fisogni Museum, which houses an extensive collection of equipment, signs and other memorabilia, was created by Guido Fisogni, in 1966. At the time, he had a company which built new gas stations and demolished the old ones. In 1961, he found an old, wrecked gas pump from 1930 and fell in love with it. From that moment, he started to collect old fuel pumps, signs, toys and gadgets, and created the museum we have today.
Back in the 1960s, old petrol pumps were usually regarded as little more than scrap, but Mr Fisogni saw more than that, and he started collecting one example for every model he found during his work, then had an employee carefully restore them. All the oldest pieces were completely revised, and they are now theoretically able to work.
“I saw all the old pumps when I was a boy,” explains Giuseppe Croce, one of Fisogni’s former employee, “so I started from my memories to restore Guido’s pieces. But I also used photos and old drawings for reference, particularly for English or American models. I often found pieces from other pumps or, if I couldn’t, I had to overhaul them, one by one. It was a work unparalleled in the world.”
Among the most important exhibits in the collection is Benito Mussolini’s private petrol pump. “This is a very rare model used only for prestigious locations, like embassies or prefectures. This one, in particular, was installed in Palazzo Venezia, Mussolini’s residence in Rome. It provided pure fuel (Benzina Pura) while, for common citizens, there was another option, made from a mixture of petrol and beet alcohol,” Fisogni explained.
The oldest exhibit in the collection is an 1892 pump, ‘which seems a boiler’, but there are many important design pieces, like 1920s French pump shaped like a Roman ‘biga’, an Italian Agip’s gas pump designed by Marcello Nizzoli, and a rare Wayne 60, which came directly from the USA.
“We have also a British Gilbarco pump from 1919 that was found in London. The owner told me that it was installed in Buckingham Palace, hence its crowned globe. I don’t know if it’s really original, but it’s certainly a good story,” Guido revealed.
The museum also preserves hundreds of signs, graphics, toys and gadgets. “In the past, oil companies gave many gifts to their customers, to gain loyalty and promote their products. So, the museum also tells the history of marketing strategies down the years,” added Guido. In the showcases, in fact, there are countless, original objects from all over the world! Pins, lighters, toys; every object has the logo of an oil company or a tyre producer. There are even thimbles, can openers, salt shakers, radios and telephones, everyone shaped as a little gas pump!
“We live in a different age now, of course, and the oil companies don’t offer anything,” said Fisogni. Worldwide – and particularly in Italy, in fact – petrol stations are really changed from the golden period of the 1960s. Many oil companies abandoned the country, and gas operators are less involved than in the past.
Nicolò Fisogni, Guido’s son, carries on his father’s museum, but he also manages Surveyeah, an international panel involved in market research. Through its ‘panelists’, Surveyeah just analysed consumers’ behaviour nowadays, to better illustrate the changes.
Today, 63% of Italian drivers prefer ‘self-service’ refuelling, and most people don’t care about the oil company which sells petrol. Some 62% of Italians make their fuel purchasing choice based purely on price, while 28% of them go to a particular fuel station simply because of its convenient location. The survey also revealed that almost nobody chooses a fuel station based on the oil company that runs it (7%), or for the owner’s courtesy (3%).
“An era is finished and our museum is here to remember it,” added Guido. “Our dream is to have a travelling exhibition that moves around Europe and the USA. Everything is ready for that and all we need now is a sponsor who wants to support our cultural project,” continued Nicolò.
The museum, however, tells the history of petrol stations right up to the present day. The newest piece is an electrical charging station that was received last year. History continues, and the museum will tell it for a long time.
The Fisogni Museum is in Tradate, Italy, near Milan Malpensa Airport. It’s open every Sunday morning, and every day by reservation. It also hosts meetings of owners of vintage cars, as well as corporate and private events and weddings. You can find out more by visiting the website at: museo-fisogni.org
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