Salvatore Viviano (1876 – 1959) left Palermo, Italy (Sicily) in 1901, working in the family grocery and macaroni business in St. Louis with his brother and cousins. In 1910, the four brothers formed a partnership and opened a factory in Chicago. Salvatore left the partnership in 1913 to establish his own macaroni firm in Detroit, where he stayed until 1921. Finally, in 1917, Salvatore moved to Carnegie, Pennsylvania to claim his fortune, opening the Viviano Macaroni Company, or Vimco, which Salvatore adopted to differentiate from his family’s other businesses.[ii]
Founding the business was no easy feat. Salvatore took out a $35,000 bank loan in 1917 that climbed to $175,000 over the next decade. When the stock market crashed, another bank took on the loan and gave Salvatore just one week to pay it off. He went to New York City in one last attempt to raise the funds. He claimed that he sought out a fortune teller who said that his financial troubles would be solved. Several New York friends helped him raise the $175,000 within a few days and Salvatore returned to Pennsylvania to continue on his American dream.[iii]
Formal Articles of Incorporation for the S. Viviano Macaroni Company were filed with the State of Pennsylvania by Salvatore Viviano, his wife Gustina, and his son Thomas (relation presumed by author) on November 8, 1933 for “the purchase, manufacture, and sale of foods and food products[iv].”
In the early days, the pasta was cut by hand and dried for four days before being sold.[v]
In the early 1900s, as more Italian immigrants found homes in America, pasta became a staple of the American kitchen. Newspapers from the 1950s through the 1970s would feature Vimco recipes, many claiming to be from Gustina Viviano herself. These recipes showcase how pasta became such an integral part of American cuisine in the mid-20th Century.
To inspire more to make macaroni a meal, Vimco would open its doors to mothers for a tour and promotional dinner. A 1955 article reported that in the first five years of the program, 50,000 local mothers and wives had visited the Vimco factory at the invitation of Mr. and Mrs. Salvatore Viviano. Salvatore would take the women on a tour of the factory and explain the production of their pasta. Gustina would then host a group lunch of macaroni and dessert, supported by a staff of assistants. Originally, she would make all of the sauce herself, but removed herself to supervisor later years[vi].
Vimco was a staple of the community. A 1935 article praised Vimco for paying employees 45 cents to 55 cents compared to the minimum wage requirement of 35 cents[vii]. The company hosted free spaghetti dinners and use of the facilities for fundraising events.[viii]
Vimco gained a reputation of excellence due to quality ingredients and expert skills. In the 1950s, Vimco made 30 millions pounds of pasta in 52 different varieties[ix]. They began to diversify by producing mixes for bread, pizza pie, doughnuts, and buttermilk biscuits. Most of Vimco’s customers resided within a 300-mile radius of Pittsburgh. [x]
Vimco’s impact reached far beyond Pennsylvania. During World War II, Vimco became the largest supplier of macaroni to the U.S. armed forces. Following the war, Vimco supported hard-hit nations, including his home nation of Italy, supplying millions of pounds of food. Salvatore’s relief work was recognized by Duquesne University with a honorary doctorate of commerce, by Pope Pius XII with a knighthood in the Order of St. Gregory, and by the Italian government as a cavalier and commendatore.[xi]
Success was not without its growing pains. In 1935, workers went on strike. Violence broke out against those who dared cross the picket line.[xii] After three months, a compromise was reached with the Bakery and Confectionary Workers’ Union – Local 12, in which a wages were increased and strikers re-employed.[xiii] In 1946, Salvatore Viviano was found guilty by a Federal court for packing macaroni “under insanitary conditions.”[xiv]
In the early 1980s, a second Vimco plant opened in Schenectady, New York. (The author can find no additional information about this plant – past or present)
Over the course of five years, Salvatore constructed the “Macaroni Mansion” at the factory, where he and family lived for almost 30 years. The original intent was to construct modest living quarters above the company offices.[xv] However, the project resulted in a hotel-sized mansion including a 100-foot living room, a banquet-sized dining room, sun parlors, eight bedrooms, and four bathrooms[xvi]. The enormous kitchen opened onto the second floor of the pasta factory.[xvii] Grandson Sam recollected Salvatore wondering through the factory at odd hours, wearing a cap and trailing nightgown.[xviii]
A 1955 article describes the home as “curio-laden” with “carved teakwood furniture and china figurines…accumulated by Mrs. (Gustina) Viviano in her travels.” An antique mother of pearl and silver chest of drawers from Smyrna was of particular interest.[xix] The fireplaces was hand carved by an Italian marble cutter.[xx] Many of these objects were sold at auction in 1990.[xxi]
As part of the “high society,” the Macaroni Mansion staged many lavish parties, beginning with the 1934 wedding of Salvatore and Gustina’s daughter Rose to Louis Napoleon. Two-hundred guests were in attendance.
In 1946, the mansion was the first home in Carnegie to have music “piped” over telephone lines into the home – a predecessor of radio,[xxii]
By the late 1980s, Vimco was the last of the family-owned Viviano macaroni businesses. As conglomerates took control of small firms, it became difficult for Vimco to keep up with investing in new equipment and pasta dies.
In 1985, Vimco was sold to Borden under the leadership of Salvatore’s grandson, Samuel T. Viviano III. Borden who continued to manufacture pasta under the Vimco brand and Sam continued servings as the brand’s president. The factory continued manufacturing the Vimco brand, along with Cremette, private supermarket labels, and for food service companies.
The transition ensured that employees remained employed. However, it was not ideal for workers. On August 1, 1986, workers walked out, contesting Borden’s proposed contracts with the Bakery and Confectionary Workers Union – Local 12. The workers criticized switching insurance and medical programs that decreased benefits, but increased costs; eliminated guaranteed overtime; and instituted a lower wage scale for new hires.[xxiii] For weeks, the union and Borden were at a standstill. Insurance benefits of striking workers were threatened to be cancelled.[xxiv] Replacement workers were brought in the third week of the strike.[xxv] Tensions were high. Eggs and tomatoes were thrown as Vimco vehicles and 90 striking union workers blocked the gates of the facility. Fliers discouraging purchasing Vimco and Borden products were distributed at supermarkets. Local policeman sided with union workers, refusing to work the plant detail, forcing Borden to hire private security.[xxvi]
By 1989 with several similar acquisitions, Borden was an international leader in pasta manufacturing. With such growth, they began consolidating and modernizing their pasta production.[xxvii] Despite signing a five-year contract with the Bakery and Confectionary Workers Union, Borden closed the Vimco facility in 1991.[xxviii] Pasta manufacturing under the Vimco brand continued under Borden at larger “hyperplants” in the area.[xxix]
One-hundred forty-five people were put out of work when the Borden pasta operation closed[xxx]. Workers were left with less than two months notice to find new work. Many had built a life around Vimco and well-paying positions.[xxxi] The closure came on the heels of several other large closures in the Chartiers Valley, just outside of Pittsburgh.
While looking a new location for its headquarters the 90-year-old Pittsburgh company Polar Water acquired the Vimco site in 1993. The first two floors of the Macaroni Mansion were renovated to accommodate offices and a company museum. Polar said they preserved many original architectural features, including Italian tile, marble, ceilings, and molding. The century-old factory was demolished to make space for a parking lot. The 50,00-square-foot factory built by Vimco in the in 1970s was repurposed as a bottling and distribution facility.[xxxii] As of 2018, the plant is operated by Crystal Springs Water.