The Rearview Mirror: The Founding of Fiat


The first Fiat, the Fiat 3-1/2 Liter

For most People in america, the first time they listened to the title Fiat was when the Italian automaker purchased a considerable stake in Chrysler Corp. following it declared individual bankruptcy in 2009. Not prolonged soon after, the Fiat 500 arrived, along with a unsuccessful attempt to turn out to be the future incredibly hot tiny car or truck brand a la Mini.

But the business has American roots that date to the transform of the 20th Century — even longer in Italy. All through this week in 1899, Fiat is set up by Giovanni Agnelli.

The start off of a loved ones empire

Giovanni Agnelli, founder of Fiat

Agnelli was born in Italy’s Villar Perosa in 1866, later attending the Collegio San Giuseppe in Turin. He enlists in the military services right after graduating and operating as a cavalry officer there until 1893, when he learns of a very hot new invention: the “horseless car or truck.” 

One such motor vehicle is becoming built by Ceirano GB & C vehicle business in Turin. Launched in Oct 1888 by Giovanni Battista Ceirano, the corporation begins constructing the Welleyes vehicle in 1899. Meanwhile, at the same time across town, Agnelli establishes Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, or Italian Car or truck Manufacturing unit of Turin, with a group of buyers. Afterwards, the company shortens its title to Fiat. 

Agnelli is familiar with a great matter when he sees it, attaining the Wellseye’s patents and manufacturing services that exact same year. Giovanni joins Agnelli as the Wellseye results in being the basis for the company’s 1st product: the Fiat 4 HP.

30-5 people labored in Fiat’s very first manufacturing unit when it initially opened in 1900. Agnelli was the youngest of the 3 founders of the business, performing as secretary to the board, but in 1902, he is promoted to handling director. 

Fiat’s American experience

The initially Fiat manufacturing facility in Turin, Italy.

As a final result of Agnelli’s leadership, Fiat opens a dealership in New York Town in 1906, selling imported Fiats to these types of customers this sort of as August Anheuser Busch Sr. of the St. Louis-centered brewing corporation that bears his name. As opposed to these days, wherever Fiat is identified for its diminutive, affordably priced cars and trucks like the 500 and 500X crossover, a century in the past, it was very the opposite the enterprise designed substantial deluxe touring cars and limousines. 

By 1910, is Italy’s most significant automaker.

It is about this time that Agnelli builds the company’s very first overseas production web page in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Producing an American manufacturing unit at that time was uncommon for a European company like Fiat. Wall Avenue, which in 1909 presented funding for the American Fiat Auto Business, applauds the final decision. Whilst Agnelli inexplicably put in diamond merchant Ben Eichberg as American Fiat’s president, other senior officers experienced labored at automakers, together with Pope-Toldeo, Lozier and Thomas. Furthermore, because “The Horseless Age” magazine’s board incorporated Fiat’s treasurer John Treas, superb protection was guaranteed. The company’s autos were designed in Turin and crafted in Poughkeepsie, with royalties paid to its Italian relative on every auto marketed.

Fiat’s first overseas manufacturing unit in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

What they sold

The company’s initially design was the 4-cylinder, 30-horsepower Style 54. In 1912, the larger Form 56, a seven-passenger Touring car constructed significantly for the American current market, was launched. It experienced a big 8.6-liter L-head 6-cylinder engine that was mated to an unsynchronized four-speed handbook transmission and rear mechanical drum brakes to create 45 horsepower. The 42-horsepower 4-cylinder Sort 55 debuted in 1913, though the pursuing yr, the 25-horsepower 4-cylinder Sort 53 arrived. With four styles made available, 1914 would transform out to be the company’s early superior point.

A turning issue

American-designed Fiats in the company’s factory in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Photograph Credit score: Simeone Basis Museum

However, elevated manufacturing capacity was needed, “something the Italian proprietors are at present not able, or unwilling to undertake,” described The Poughkeepsie Each day Eagle at the time, including that Fiat was particularly successful and prepared to increase soon after the war. Nevertheless, as soon as Fiat in Italy acquired the American company in 1917, the Sort 55 grew to become the only product readily available until eventually the end of the year, when creation ended as a end result of Environment War I.

Many trade publications mentioned in February 1918 that Duesenberg Motors of Elizabeth, New Jersey acquired the tools from the Fiat facility to expand the creation of Bugatti plane engines. Fiat officers promised to begin producing cars in Poughkeepsie right up until new gear was set up at the manufacturing unit by the middle of 1918, but it in no way transpired. The manufacturing facility was shut down.

Advertisement for an American-constructed Fiat

The relaxation of the tale

Fiat used far more than 30,000 staff and ran its Turin services at comprehensive ability all over Globe War I, giving ammunition to the Italian armed forces. Despite Italy’s transition to communism, the corporation would continue on to develop and eventually rank between the most significant industrial corporations in the planet. Agnelli was in demand up until eventually 1945, when the Italian Committee of Nationwide Liberation pressured him out of the organization. In 1966, the Agnelli family reclaimed possession of Fiat.

But it was through the put up-Environment War II era that Fiat re-entered the American market, even though figures were being modest at greatest. The company did not make a concerted exertion at exporting to the United States until finally 1957. Whatsoever profits accomplishment the company loved was dissipating by the late 1970s. In 1986, Fiat withdrew from the American sector after once again.

John Elkann at Ferrari Market Day 2022 close
Chairman John Elkann speaks at the start out of the company’s Funds Marketplace Day party.

Yet the enterprise returned to The united states in 2009, attaining 20% of Chrysler Corp. soon after Chrysler declared bankruptcy in 2009. In two several years, Fiat acquired all of Chrysler and turned recognized as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, right until merging with French automaker PSA Group to come to be Stellantis in 2021. 

The Agnelli loved ones is however very considerably involved with Fiat by John Elkann, Giovanni Agnelli’s good-terrific-grandson. Elkann is chairman and CEO of Exor, the Agnelli family’s keeping corporation, which owns stakes in both of those Ferrari and Stellantis.


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