The Inventor of Paper Confetti was Triestin
I went to get some linens out of the closet this morning and two small pieces of paper floated to the floor – confetti or coriandoli in Italian. Surely it could not be possible that these were still there from Carnevale last year. But in fact, the amount of confetti covering the streets of Trieste during Carnevale can be measured like the accumulation of snow is measured in Ottawa – centimetres deep. The people lining the streets as the Carnevale floats pass by are literally covered in a snow fall of confetti. With great enthusiasm toddlers in their Carnevale costumes, hold bags of colorful confetti and throw the little pieces of paper up in the air. The wind picks them up and blows them everywhere and when the bags are empty the toddlers joyfully sweep them off the sidewalks and throw them up in the air again. By the end of the parade, there are little pieces of confetti in your hair, clinging to your clothes and even hidden where you might least suspect!
Confetti, the small scraps of colored paper thrown in the air in celebration of weddings and New Year’s Eve, is a universal word used in English, German, French, Dutch, Swedish, Spanish. The tradition originates in Italy during the Renaissance era with the throwing of real candy – confetti – for weddings or Carnevale. Italian confetti are almonds with a hard sugar-coating, from the word confit, as in confiture (sweet jams). The Italian word for paper confetti is coriandoli, which refers to one of the earliest versions of the candies where coriander seeds were coated with sugar.
According to the book, “Trieste Nascosto”, the invention of paper confetti is credited to the engineer Ettore Fenderl. The book has all kinds of interesting and perhaps even obscure facts and stories about Trieste, its citizens and traditions.
Fenderl was born in Trieste in a house located on the Piazza della Borsa. It was customary to throw candy confetti and rose petals from the windows of the houses as the Carnevale floats passed by in the Piazza below. In 1876 he was a boy of fourteen, had no money and therefore was unable to buy sweets or flowers. According to a story he recounts and reported in an interview with Rai Radio in 1957, he had the idea to shred colored paper and throw … “paper confetti” … out the balcony as the parade passed by.
He immediately received the visit of the Austrian police but explained his way out of the situation. The idea of using paper confetti spread quickly to Vienna, then to Venice and from there, around the world.
The house Ettore was born in is still standing and is in the process of being renovated. It has three wrought iron balconies on the third level and you can easily imagine the young Ettore standing at the window of one of those balconies happily watching the Carnevale parade and tossing out colorful confetti.
Ettore Fenderl became a noted physicist and in 1926 he created the first laboratory for nuclear research in Rome. He lived a long life passing away at the age of 104.
His “invention”, was never patented, but there is no doubt that his paper confetti have become universally synonymous with happy celebrations and good wishes for the future.