Viva l’Italia: Columbus celebrates centennial — and what a century it has been!

We celebrate all things Italian this week as the country begins to open its doors again after over two months in lockdown due to the coronavirus crisis. Businesses have been closed and bike races been canceled. And while the famed Giro d’Italia, which was scheduled to start this Saturday has been postponed, we will celebrate Italy’s rich cycling heritage and culture in a series of special features this week. And what better way than to look back on the incredible history of this steel-tube giant, our second of a three-part series on Columbus.

It is hard — no — it is impossible to imagine bicycle racing without steel tubing. After all, for nearly a century, steel was simply the main ingredient of any bike frame. And it is equally impossible to imagine steel bike frames without Columbus tubes, as the historic Italian manufacturer has been synonymous with so many of the great bikes that have won so many great races. This year, the company is celebrating its centennial, an unforgettable anniversary for any bike aficionado. We thought it only fitting to look back over the company’s rich heritage.

RELATED: A look inside the Columbus Centennial exhibit of cycling and art

Founded in 1919 on the heels of World War I, Italian industrialist Antonio Luigi Colombo did not set out to take over the sport of cycling. He simply wanted to make the best steel tubes on the market. While his tubes quickly found favor in the burgeoning sport of road racing, he was equally interested in selling his tubes to furniture makers or the aviation industry, which also was in its infancy. His steel tubes, in fact, quickly caught the eye of Marcel Breuer, a designer for the German Bauhaus. The revolutionary art school — also founded in 1919 — championed the integration of modern materials and forms into their design, and steel tubes became an integral part of his Cesca and Wassily chairs, both considered masterpieces of 20th-century furniture design.