By Jude Seminara
Recently, Anthony Martignetti — “Anthony!” from the Prince Macaroni commercials — passed away. Martignetti was a local celebrity, court officer, and Italian immigrant.
The following is the story of another Italian immigrant, my great grandfather Giuseppe Seminara, one of the founders of the Prince Macaroni Mfg. Co. Prince Macaroni got its start less than half a mile from the North End tenement on Powers Ct. where Anthony burst panting through the door for supper in the advertisement. Antonino Seminara, Giuseppe’s father, ran a bakery at 92 Prince St.
The Seminara family arrived in the United States aboard the SS Trave in 1901 and settled in the North End, Boston’s Italian neighborhood. Following Antonino’s death in 1911, Giuseppe Seminara (who earned his citizenship in 1905), his brother-in-law Gaetano LaMarca, and LaMarca’s cousin Michele Cantella began Prince Macaroni with some baking equipment, a horse and cart, and $150. Their macaroni was sold from the storefront at 92 Prince St. to the Italians in the neighborhood. By 1917, these three “off-the-boat” immigrants had so much success that they purchased a lot on Commercial St. to erect an eight story plant in order to keep up with the growing demand for semolina pasta.
During this time, anti-Italian sentiment ran high in the United States. Known as “guineas,” “wops,” and “dagos,” Italians were regularly discriminated against. In fact, the largest mass lynching in American history occurred when eleven Italians were murdered in New Orleans in 1891. Louisiana would see two more mass lynchings of Italians in the 1890s. Anti-Italian prejudice was not limited to the South either. The KKK held a mass protest in Vineland, NJ in the 1930s, and even closer to home, in Boston, Italian immigrants were suspected of causing the Molasses Disaster of 1919; and Sacco and Vanzetti were subject to an unfair trial which resulted in their execution in 1927 for a crime they did not commit. Prejudice certainly touched Giuseppe as well In 1919, he, LaMarca, Cantella, four other Italians, and one German and one Jewish applicant were all denied gun permits. Almost forty permits were issued, all to applicants with Irish and English surnames.
Despite the obstacles presented by bigotry, the Seminara, Cantella, and LaMarca held their course towards the American Dream. Twice, tragedy struck the Seminara family (Giuseppe and his wife Elvira lost their second son Salvatore to jaundice one day after he was born; and Elvira herself died after a long illness in 1923 when she was only 28 years old), yet Giuseppe persevered.
Prince Macaroni continued to grow through the Roaring Twenties and survived the Great Depression. In 1939, the business moved to Lowell. In 1941, despite having done $600,000 in business, LaMarca, Cantella, and Seminara were seeking new management, which came in the form of Italian immigrant New Yorker Joseph Pellegrino, who purchased a controlling share in the corporation. By 1955, Prince was turning out a million pounds of pasta per week and doing ten million dollars in business. Prince Macaroni was a household name.
Giuseppe Seminara died in 1961 at age 76, nine years before Anthony Martignetti burst through the door for supper at Powers Court, He was survived by his wife Rosalia, his oldest son by Elvira (my paternal grandfather) Antonino, and a son Joseph and daughter Elvira, as well as several grandchildren of which my dad was one.
Part of Giuseppe’s legacy is that anyone, despite their circumstances or the obstacles they face, can achieve the American dream with perseverance and hard work.