Fiat has maintained the position as Italy’s largest producer of the economy to the mid-range motor car for well over a century. The company was founded during the last few months of the nineteenth century, initially as a partnership between Count Emanuele Cacherano of Bricherasio, who had been attempting to establish a company who would be involved in the development of the first “ horseless carriages” produced in mainland Europe.

One of Italy's most promising industrialists of the period approached to invest in the new business, that was to trade under the title of the Società Anonima Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino or Fiat as it became better known was Giovanni Agnelli.

Agnelli, who despite having risen to the heights of success, was still in his early Thirties. The young businessman had an already earned himself a reputation as a shrewd business person, after pursuing a career in the Italian military, where he also picked up some relatively advanced engineering skills.

After a period of organization, the charter to establish the company was signed in July of 1899, with Giovanni Agnelli sitting on the Board of Directors. From the early days of the company’s inception, it became apparent to all concerned that Agnelli would be the driving force behind the new enterprise.

With his tremendous drive and energy, determination to succeed, Agnelli almost single-handedly ensured that Fiat would rapidly grow to become a market leader in this exciting new industry.

Just a few short months after the Fiat company was established, they were already in production from a plant in Corso Dante, in Turin.

With considerable finance at their disposal, Fiat started their production on a significant scale, employing 150 people.

During 1900, their first full year in production, Fiat produced 24 vehicles, a commendable figure, as well as developing a number of technical improvements.

One of the more fundamental was the use of a conventional steering wheel instead of the rudder-like mechanism that was in everyday use in those early days of the car industry.

In 1908, the company also made the bold move of establishing their footprint in the United States, where their luxury cars were well received, often commanding prices considerably higher than their local competitors.

With a desperate need to increase their production capacity, in 1916 Fiat laid the foundation stone on what was to become the Lingotto plant. Situated on the outskirts of Turin, befitting the Fiat image, the Lingotto plant was many decades ahead of its time.

To minimize its footprint, the Lingotto plant was a single building, although immense in proportion at five stories high and half a kilometer in length.

When completed in 1922, the Fiat Lingotto plant was, for many years, the most substantial factory in Europe, with its five-story production line topped off by futuristically designed test track on the building's roof.

On the domestic front, Fiat gradually began to expand their product range, not only producing cars but also light vans, as well as establishing separate divisions to build aircraft engines and farming equipment.

With their massive factory now fully operational, Fiat was going from strength to strength. It was evident to all industry observers that there was no better person to lead the company through these times of dramatic expansion than Giovanni Agnelli.

Agnieli's decisive leadership had led him to develop close ties to the car industry in the US, saw the future for Fiat as being the principal supplier for a broad range of vehicles from entry level to medium range.

Under the wily and experienced entrepreneur's guidance, Fiat set a fixed policy to remain in the mass market and had no aspirations of competing against the other Italian manufacturers in the sports car or luxury automobile sector, instead providing simple, well-constructed value for money cars for the domestic market.

In the mid-Thirties, Fiat introduced a new model, the Topolino, which was their version of the “ people’s car” – a style that was very much in demand during these times.

No model better represented the Fiat manufacturing and marketing philosophy than the Topolino which remained in production till 1955, when it was replaced by the Fiat 600, to which it bore more than a faint resemblance.

With demand for Fiat cars on a seemingly never-ending rise, and with no ground available around the Lingotto plant, the company purchased a large plot of land, also in Turin, on which they built their Mirafiori Plant.

Less dramatic in appearance than the Lingotto, with considerably fewer frills, the Mirafiori was designed and constructed to meet the demands mass production. When the Mirafiori opened its doors in 1937 Fiat's output capacity increased dramatically almost overnight.

In 1940 Italy found themselves once again at war, meaning that production at both Fiat’s plants was utilized to help the war effort. Not long after hostilities ceased with Italy defeated and in disarray, Fiat, already having to face the challenges of reconstruction and retooling, were dealt a tragic blow when Giovanni Agnelli, the President of Fiat, passed away suddenly in December of 1945.

Agnelli was 79 at his passing and had led Fiat for more than 45 years.

Vittorio Valletta was the man handed the challenging task of filling Agnelli’s shoes, overseeing the repairs and reconstruction of the Fiat plant’s as well as preparing the blueprint for the company’s transition into the post-war world.

Under Valletta, Fiat’s recovery was slow but steady as Italy’s economy began to get back on its feet. In 1955, Fiat eventually replaced the Topolino with the Fiat 600, almost simultaneously releasing the 500, a smaller version of the same theme.

Both models were precisely what the Italian public needed in the still semi-austere mid-Fifties.

As the country’s economy began to improve, Fiat was ready with a string of larger and more luxurious family sedans, offering the kind of power and comfort that the market increasingly demanded.

After the passing of Giovanni Agnelli, some members of the family were involved in the running of the company, and remained the principal shareholders, although none of them had such a substantial effect on shaping Fiat’s destiny than its original patriarch.

Over the years, Fiat has grown to become the most dominant force in car manufacturing in Italy, holding controlling power in both Ferrari and Maserati and with Fiat production units situated across the world, they are one of the most significant players in the international car industry.

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