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1st of July 1899: Fiat hits the road in Turin

What happened this week in the History of Industry? It is to answer this question that we invite you to rediscover, every week, a historical event which occurred around this time… in another age. This week, let’s look back to the beginnings of a legendary success story with the creation of a future world giant of the car industry: the Fiat group.



There was nothing about the young Giovanni Agnelli – who was only 32 on the 1st of July 1899 – to suggest that he would go on to create the empire which made him famous. He was born on the 13th of August 1866 into a family of Piedmont landowners. After initially opting for a military career, this lover of technical progress and mechanical engineering ended up leaving the army in 1889 to found various companies in this field. These companies – ironically for this future car manufacturer – crashed one after the other, with the result that he was obliged for a time to take over the management of the family estate. His passion could not be contained, however, and in 1896 he moved with his family to Turin, where he initially marketed motorized tricycles. A regular customer at the Caffé Burello, the cradle of Italian motor racing, he formed ties with numerous Turin enthusiasts.

Boosted by this network, on the 1st of July 1899 he founded his industrial empire in this city at the Palazzo Bricherasio, surrounding himself with seven partners and some thirty shareholders for an initial capital of 800,000 lira. His goal was to enable the newly-formed nation of Italy to catch up with France and Germany in particular by producing popular cars affordable to as many people as possible.



He was named managing director of what was successively to be called the Italian company for the construction and marketing of cars in Turin and then the Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, rapidly replaced by its acronym: FIAT. For reasons of effectiveness, quickness and economy, he initially forewent creating an original model and bought up Ceirano, a company which had just patented its first car. He renamed it the Fiat 3½ HP and subcontracted the manufacturing of its parts to experienced companies.

The first big Fiat factory was finally opened the following year, in 1900, on a 12,000 m² site in Turin. 150 workers built 24 cars there in this first year. Two years later, the company made a name for itself in motor racing, its nine cars competing in the Giro d’Italia all completing the race. Success came so quickly that the company became the symbol of the “Italian economic miracle”. In 1906, it employed 1500 workers who produced 1,150 cars. It also began producing trucks, buses, trams and even ship and aircraft engines which it exported all over world.

The company has gone from strength to strength ever since. Today, the Agnelli family holds a 51.2 % majority share in the group and its Chairman is none other than Giovanni Agnelli’s great-great-grandson. In June 2009 Fiat became the main shareholder in the American company Chrysler, which was to result three years later in the creation of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles group.



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