The Rearview Mirror: The Founding of Fiat


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

For most Americans, the very first time they listened to the title Fiat was when the Italian automaker purchased a major stake in Chrysler Corp. following it declared personal bankruptcy in 2009. Not prolonged following, the Fiat 500 arrived, along with a failed attempt to become the following warm small automobile model a la Mini.

But the company has American roots that date to the turn of the 20th Century — even lengthier in Italy. Throughout this 7 days in 1899, Fiat is recognized by Giovanni Agnelli.

The get started of a family empire

Giovanni Agnelli, founder of Fiat

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

A single these types of auto is getting created by Ceirano GB & C auto business in Turin. Established in October 1888 by Giovanni Battista Ceirano, the enterprise starts constructing the Welleyes vehicle in 1899. Meanwhile, at the similar time throughout city, Agnelli establishes Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, or Italian Car Manufacturing facility of Turin, with a team of traders. Later on, the corporation shortens its identify to Fiat. 

Agnelli understands a fantastic thing when he sees it, buying the Wellseye’s patents and production facilities that same year. Giovanni joins Agnelli as the Wellseye gets the basis for the company’s to start with design: the Fiat 4 HP.

30-5 people labored in Fiat’s very first factory when it at first opened in 1900. Agnelli was the youngest of the a few founders of the business, performing as secretary to the board, but in 1902, he is promoted to taking care of director. 

Fiat’s American experience

The initial Fiat manufacturing facility in Turin, Italy.

As a result of Agnelli’s management, Fiat opens a dealership in New York City in 1906, selling imported Fiats to such customers this sort of as August Anheuser Busch Sr. of the St. Louis-dependent brewing company that bears his name. In contrast to nowadays, wherever Fiat is recognized for its diminutive, affordably priced automobiles like the 500 and 500X crossover, a century in the past, it was very the reverse the corporation created substantial deluxe touring autos and limousines. 

By 1910, is Italy’s biggest automaker.

It’s about this time that Agnelli builds the company’s first overseas production site in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Producing an American factory at that time was abnormal for a European company like Fiat. Wall Street, which in 1909 furnished funding for the American Fiat Automobile Company, applauds the choice. Even though Agnelli inexplicably installed diamond service provider Ben Eichberg as American Fiat’s president, other senior officials had labored at automakers, like Pope-Toldeo, Lozier and Thomas. Also, since “The Horseless Age” magazine’s board included Fiat’s treasurer John Treas, excellent coverage was confirmed. The company’s vehicles had been intended in Turin and crafted in Poughkeepsie, with royalties paid to its Italian relative on each auto marketed.

Fiat’s to start with foreign manufacturing facility in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

What they offered

The company’s to start with product was the 4-cylinder, 30-horsepower Sort 54. In 1912, the bigger Form 56, a seven-passenger Touring vehicle constructed particularly for the American market, was produced. It had a significant 8.6-liter L-head 6-cylinder motor that was mated to an unsynchronized 4-speed guide transmission and rear mechanical drum brakes to deliver 45 horsepower. The 42-horsepower 4-cylinder Style 55 debuted in 1913, even though the following calendar year, the 25-horsepower 4-cylinder Style 53 arrived. With four versions supplied, 1914 would convert out to be the company’s early significant issue.

A turning point

American-built Fiats in the company’s manufacturing facility in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Photo Credit score: Simeone Basis Museum

Having said that, greater generation capability was needed, “something the Italian house owners are at current not able, or unwilling to undertake,” noted The Poughkeepsie Each day Eagle at the time, including that Fiat was extremely profitable and planned to mature just after the war. Even so, when Fiat in Italy acquired the American business in 1917, the Form 55 grew to become the only model readily available until the conclusion of the yr, when output ended as a final result of Planet War I.

Numerous trade journals said in February 1918 that Duesenberg Motors of Elizabeth, New Jersey acquired the gear from the Fiat facility to increase the manufacturing of Bugatti plane engines. Fiat officials promised to start off creating vehicles in Poughkeepsie right until new gear was set up at the manufacturing facility by the middle of 1918, but it in no way transpired. The manufacturing unit was shut down.

Ad for an American-constructed Fiat

The relaxation of the tale

Fiat utilized far more than 30,000 personnel and ran its Turin facilities at comprehensive potential during Entire world War I, supplying ammunition to the Italian armed forces. Irrespective of Italy’s changeover to communism, the business would proceed to extend and at some point rank among the premier industrial firms in the world. Agnelli was in charge up until finally 1945, when the Italian Committee of National Liberation forced him out of the business. In 1966, the Agnelli family members reclaimed possession of Fiat.

But it was for the duration of the post-Environment War II period that Fiat re-entered the American industry, despite the fact that figures were modest at greatest. The organization did not make a concerted effort at exporting to the United States until eventually 1957. Whatever sales accomplishment the business relished was dissipating by the late 1970s. In 1986, Fiat withdrew from the American marketplace as soon as once again.

John Elkann at Ferrari Market Day 2022 close
Chairman John Elkann speaks at the get started of the company’s Money Market place Day function.

Nevertheless the organization returned to The us in 2009, acquiring 20% of Chrysler Corp. immediately after Chrysler declared personal bankruptcy in 2009. Within two yrs, Fiat obtained all of Chrysler and grew to become recognized as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, right up until merging with French automaker PSA Group to turn out to be Stellantis in 2021. 

The Agnelli spouse and children is even now really considerably affiliated with Fiat via John Elkann, Giovanni Agnelli’s wonderful-good-grandson. Elkann is chairman and CEO of Exor, the Agnelli family’s keeping organization, which owns stakes in the two Ferrari and Stellantis.


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