testata inforMARE
01 October 2023 - Year XXVII
Independent journal on economy and transport policy
04:46 GMT+2
Our roots

In 1882, when the Avvisatore Marittimo sighting ships service was founded in Genoa, the most difficult job for the people working in the kiosk placed at the beginning of Via Jacopo Ruffini, just in front of the entrance of the port, was to advise the subscribers of the service scattered in the several harbour offices of the sighting of a ship. The telephone still didn't exist and the message in order to be useful had to be fast, almost immediate. A quite complicated, but effective machinery was invented. Each nationality was connected to a conventional colour, and the sighting of a steamship was communicated by lifting a disk with the colour corresponding to the nationality of the ship coming in high above the observatory: white if Italian, red if English, green if German... The machinery was placed so as to be clearly visible from the employees of the several port services. My grand-grandfather, Giuseppe Anelli, owner of the observatory of the Avvisatore Marittimo was very proud of his outcomes when he used to tell the history of his first years in Genoa, when he, still young, had come from Berceto, in the neighbourhood of Parma, to embark as a ship boy on any ship that would have carried him to "Merica" (as we called America at those years), he was also proud of the fact that he had given life to this unusual profession, named "the man who reads the ships", as years later he was defined by Cesco Tomaselli in the "Corriere della Sera". And he was satisfied when he used to talk about the difficulties, the obstacles, but also the victories he had been able to achieve in the daily struggle against the lack of effective systems of communication. He succeeded in fact in completing the sighting ship message of the coloured disks system with a kind of door to door communication. He hired a group of strong young boys provided with bicycles, to whom he gave a duplicated leaflet on which he marked the name of the ship, the cargo, the place of origin and all the other data he knew, and then sent it to the customers in the port area. Actually, the system was an additional and very useful information, but not complete. Completeness was reached during the first years of the century when the first telephone lines were built. The calls had to be sorted out through the operator of the telephone company: with regard to the calls from the observatory of the Avvisatore the heads of a shift were got together because of the neverending list of numbers to call. The telephone was an epoch-making event in getting in touch with the subscribers to the service, an event comparable in the world of the written communication only to the advent of the printing characters, then to the linotype, to the computer science and finally to Internet, to which now inforMARE gives its information: it is a service for the consumers who sail in the ocean of Internet in search of news on conveyances. inforMARE is a news-bulletin I occupy myself with, and perhaps the pioneering inclination of the "man who reads the ships" lives again in me, grand-nephew of the inventor of those daring means of data transmission.

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