The Thornless Rose was an age-old dream of floriculturists, one that Nick Grillo achieved even as he realized the American Dream.
Nick Grillo was born in 1888 in Tusa, Messina, Italy. As a boy he longed to come to America, and managed to save enough money for boat passage to emigrate. He started his own florist business in Southington, Conn.
Grillo had arrived as the wave of Italian immigration to Connecticut crested between 1900 and 1916. Italians first came to the state in numbers in the 1870s when a group of about 100 came to New Haven, most to work for a hardware manufacturer. Others worked on the railroad or as truck gardeners. In two years the population doubled and by 1880 there were 500 Italians living in New Haven. By 1907, the hardware factory that brought the first group over employed nearly 3,000 Italian workers, and a rubber plant nearby had about a thousand.
In 1916, there were 60,000 Italians living in the state. By 1938, Connecticut’s 227,000 Italians comprised the state’s largest ethnic group. Today, 19.3 percent of Connecticut — 694,00 people — is of Italian descent, making it the second most Italian-American state in the country next to Rhode Island.
The photo was taken by Fenno Jacobs in May 1942 as part of a government-sponsored photo essay about the Town of Southington. The War Department highlighted the town in a propaganda booklet called Southington, Connecticut —Microcosm of America. Jacobs and other photographers took pictures of residents at work, at leisure and in their homes and churches. The booklet was designed to show friends and enemies in Europe the traditions and values of typical American families. Thousands of copies were dropped over Europe from military planes during the Nazi occupation.
Nick Grillo arrived in Connecticut sometime around World War I. The caption to his photo reads, “Today, after 22 years, he is one of the world’s outstanding floriculturists, developer of the famous Thornless Rose, an age-old dream of his craft.”