Italians in America – First Business Leaders

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An Italian Family Arrives at New York Circa 1901

Most immigrants from Italy arrived during the later decades of the 19th century and those of the early 20th century. The archive records at New York’s Ellis Island are filled with Italian surnames. Many others came through Boston, Baltimore and a number of Italians arrived in the United States after landing in Canada.

While many Italians who immigrated to the U.S. during the 1800s were laborers, a number of others were executives and business owners.

Egisto and Ernesto Fabbri

The Fabbri brothers settled in New York City. Egisto, the older brother, came to American from his native Florence during the 1840s. Ernesto arrived a few years later. They were operating a business at 167 Broadway during 1852 when they submitted a plan for a Columbus statue to President Millard Fillmore.

Their plan described a 40-foot statue – “Columbus Unveiling the New to the Old World” – that was to be erected in Washington, D.C. No further record of this proposal could be found, but a Columbus statue, designed and created by another artist, finally was unveiled during 1912.

During 1876, Egisto became a member of the banking firm of Drexel, Morgan and Company, which he represented on the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Railroad. He also was a director for a number of other companies that included the Edison Electric and Light Company, where he was treasurer. He also was the treasurer for the first Metropolitan Opera House Company. He retired during 1885.

Ernesto entered the fur house of John Randall and Company as a clerk. He became a partner after his marriage to the owner’s daughter. He also became a member of the commission merchants firm Fabbri and Chauncey during 1865. Brother Egisto was the senior partner.

Ernesto became a director of several large companies, including the Edison Company, the U.S. Rolling Stock Company, the Orient Mutual Insurance Company, the Central and South American Telephone Company. He died in New York during 1883.

A son, also named Ernesto, married the granddaughter of William H. Vanderbilt and lived until the age of 69, when he died in California during 1943.

Giovanni Morosini

Raised poor, Giovanni Morosini became one of the chief stockholders of the Erie Railroad Company. He was a millionaire banker and a partner of Jay Gould, the financier who became a leading railroad developer and speculator.

Morosini died during 1918. One of his children who inherited some of his success was daughter Giulia. She was known for her beauty and expert horsemanship. When she died during 1932, she left more than one million dollars in cash and a valuable collection — European and Oriental art that included rare coins and early European arms and armor — to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She also gave the museum the mansion that she had inherited from her father.

Another daughter, Victoria, died in New York during 1933 after living many years in seclusion. Feeling her father’s anger when she eloped with her coachman, she had to work to survive and did so as a chorus girl. The marriage lasted only a few years and she was later traced to a convent in Vermont.

Two sons, Giovanni and Attilio, also lived and died in New York.

Italian Restaurant Owners

The considerable number of fine restaurants that serve Italian cuisine in the U.S. today can trace the industry’s beginnings to several establishments that opened in New York and Philadelphia during the late 1700s and early 1800s.

New York City’s most prominent early Italian restaurants including Palmo’s, La Maison Doree (owned by a Piedmontese named Francesco Martinez) and the Moretti Café. The most famous was Delmonico’s restaurant.

Giovanni Del-Monico was born and raised in Mairengo in the canton of Ticino, which is located in Switzerland’s south area that is adjacent to Italy. After a career as a successful sea captain, he opened a wine shop in lower Manhattan. When he returned to Switzerland a few years later, he learned that a brother, Pietro, had opened a very successful candy shop in Berne. The brothers discussed business opportunities in America and decided to move to New York to invest in a food business.

In America, Giovanni used the English name, “John Del-Monico” in business and the French spelling “Jean” in legal documents. Pietro used “Peter Del-Monico” for business and “Pierre Antoine Del-Monico” on any legal documents. The last name eventually lost its hyphen and uppercase “M.”

On December 13, 1827, the brothers opened a small cafe and pastry shop at 23 William Street. Four nephews from Switzerland joined them in the business. As the business grew, additional restaurants were opened by the family along Broadway and Fifth Avenue.

The business eventually spread to other cities, including Dodge City, Kansas. Viewers of the television program Gunsmoke, which takes place during the 1870s, will periodically hear and see references to Delmonico’s Dodge City restaurant.

Back east, in Philadelphia, musician Vincent M. Pelosi was a café owner before the Delmonico brothers ever saw America. He opened his business during the founding years of the country and moved it across the river to New Jersey during 1788.

An advertisement from the December 31, 1788 Pennsylvania Packet reads, in part: “Vincent M. Pelosi, who formerly kept the [establishment] on Market Street, Philadelphia, returns his sincere thanks to his Friends and patrons…in his undertaking, and to the Public in general and takes the liberty to inform them, that on the first of January 1789, he intends to open…in Middle Ferry, New Jersey, opposite Arch Street…”