Vespa was presented by Piaggio on 29 March 1946. It was the birth of a myth, loved by cinema and fashion, a symbol of Italy's economic boom

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On March 29 in 1946, a vehicle was presented at the Golf Club in Rome that would revolutionize the lives of Italians: the Vespa Piaggio. After a few years, so did the lives of many others around the world. The innovative moped was designed by Corradino D'Ascanio, an engineer originally from Popoli, and was launched on the market by Piaggio, an industry founded in 1884 in Sestri Ponente, a stone's throw from Genoa, by Rinaldo Piaggio and which today marks 140 years of activity .

Before throwing itself into the field of two-wheeled mobility, Piaggio was therefore an aircraft company, dedicated to the war industry and also strong in the railway sector. Only after the war did it slowly convert to two wheels and today, with a galaxy that includes, among other things, Moto Guzzi and Aprilia, it is the leading European manufacturer in the sector of motorbikes, scooters and mopeds, including electric ones. The patent of the aeronautical engineer D'Ascanio marked a real turning point for the Ligurian industry, seriously tested by the destruction of some factories caused by the bombings of the Second World War, determining its success and rise on the Italian and international market.

But why did they call it 'Vespa'?

The unusual name Vespa - means Bee - was given by Enrico Piaggio, son of Rinaldo and his successor in running the Tuscan branch of the company, in the factory in Pontedera, near Pisa, which still produces it. In fact, Enrico didn't like the old name of "Donald Duck", who instead noticed a certain structural similarity of the moped with that of the famous insect and its unmistakable hum.

The new means of transport was courageously "christened" at the Rome's golf club in the presence of the commander of the Allied Forces, General Stone, arousing great outcry and conflicting opinions from public opinion. Some apostrophized the new vehicle in a negative way, defining it as unreliable and not very powerful, while others, however, exalted its innovative aspect and considered it a brilliant engineering invention.

The success of the Vespa Piaggio was immediate. In that year 1946, 2,484 were produced, but in 1950 there were more than 60,000 and the annual production in 1953 exceeded 170,000 units. Extraordinary numbers for a scooter that today is approaching 20 million models sold, produced in Pontedera but also in India and Vietnam. "Hundreds of thousands of swarms that buzzed" on the streets all over the world and which represented, especially in Italy, one of the most important symbols of the Economic Boom and of the so-called "welfare society".

From simple means of transport to a symbol of an era

Vespa Piaggio italian icon

From the cinema to everyday life, from the journey to work to a picnic with the girlfriend, the Vespa has accompanied millions of Italians on their lives. And not only that. D'Ascanio's project has also received the honour of being included in the collections of the Museum of Italian Design at the Triennale in Milan and the MoMa in New York, as an illustrious example of brilliant Made in Italy creativity.

Going through all the stars and famous people who have been seen riding a Vespa would fill a museum with photographs. The scooter has also been loved by art, Salvador Dalì designed the graphics of a Vespa 150 S which toured the world in 1962 and is now exhibited at the Piaggio Museum in Pontedera. The versions designed by Giorgio Armani and Christian Dior, among other designers, also demonstrate how much it is loved by the fashion world.

A beautiful page of Italian history which also deserved a valuable drama produced by RAI in 2019: Enrico Piaggio. An Italian dream, directed by Umberto Marino and starring Alessio Boni, Roberto Ciufoli and Violante Placido.

The Vespa and the cinema

Vespa Piaggio Roman Holiday

The small moped has not only become part of our lives, but it has also become a real movie star. What comes to mind when you think of the film Vacanze Romane (Roman Holiday)? Almost certainly, the scene in which Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck speed through the alleys of Rome as if that Vespa were a white horse riding the dreams of a princess discovering a new world, together with her prince charming. This 1953 William Wyler's masterpiece is only the beginning of the Piaggio Vespa's many appearances on the big screen.

It "starred" in more than a thousand films, first and foremost La Dolce Vita in 1960 with Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg, an unforgettable masterpiece by the great Italian director and screenwriter Federico Fellini about the iconic roman nights. Up to the present day. Her most recent "roles" include, for example, those in Alfie with Jude Law, The Interpreter with the beautiful Nicole Kidman, Transformers, where she also becomes a humanoid robot, and The American with George Clooney.

The whole world has wanted her, from Cinecittà to Hollywood and Bollywood. Many cinema greats have desired her in the cast of their films, from Spielberg to Hitchcock, from Pollack to Monicelli, from George Lucas to Nanni Moretti, to the great Giuseppe Tornatore, who included her in his masterpiece Cinema Paradiso, to name but a few. And so it is that, from one clapperboard to another, the little scooter's sparkling 'film career' has become something unique. Today, we can proudly say that it is the Italian design object and vehicle most frequently featured in films over the last sixty years, even becoming more famous than the traditional symbols of Italian iconography.

Vespa and music

Piaggio's Vespa

The Vespa has become so important in the lives of Italians that songs have been dedicated to it, inspiring unforgettable verses and choruses. In 1999, singer Cesare Cremonini and his band Lunapop made their debut on the Italian music scene with a song that became a real hit, entitled 50 Special and invited everyone to get on his bike to go around the Bolognese hills.

But history starts before, with the world-famous Gianni Morandi starred in a Vespa 50 TV commercial. Among the hundred best DJs globally, the famous Italian electronic music duo Mark and Kremont played a tour to promote the electric Vespa. This event took in some of the most important European cities.

So what are you waiting for? Whether old or new, if you own a Piaggio Vespa, celebrate the occasion with a ride around town, beating your horn in unison!

Discover Naples with a Vespa ride

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