FIAT is not well known by most Americans, except for small sports car fan. It is, however, Italyís leading auto manufacturer and has been around for over a hundred years. The side of FIAT most people know is its small sports cars like the 124 Spider and X-19 but they also produced small taxis that were perfect for small European streets, trucks, buses, and engines for airplanes and ships for war efforts. FIAT also owns the popular Italian car companies Lancia and Alfa Romeo. FIAT has suffered and benefited as Italy has gone through World War I, World War II, Mussoliniís Fascist Regime, and the fluctuating economic conditions associated with these events.
FIAT was established in 1899 in Turin by a group of investors. FIAT is an acronym for Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili di Torino, which means Italian Automotive Manufacturer of Turin in English. In 1901 Giovanni Agnelli became the head of FIAT and that same year Giovanni Giolitti became the Prime Minister of Italy and held the position until 1914. Under Giolittiís control Italy experienced political, social, and economic modernization. Giolitti introduced a number of reforms, which included the right for workers to strike for higher wages and the abolition of tariffs. FIAT benefited greatly from the abolition of tariffs and began major production in 1903. During the Giolitti era Italyís rate of industrial growth was 87 percent and wages increased by more than 25 percent despite a shortened workday and the introduction of a guaranteed day of rest. FIAT was growing with the economy and it opened its first American plant in 1910.
When Italy entered World War I in 1915 its progress was halted. FIAT produced military vehicles and engines for the French, British, Russian, and Italian forces. This drastically slowed the production of normal FIAT vehicles but FIAT actually benefited from the increased production that they were doing for the military.
From 1919 to 1922 Italy was torn by social and political strife, inflation, and economic problems. Many landowners feared that the peasants would seize their estates and Italy would become a Soviet-style republic. During this same time FIAT was also suffering many economic problems. The workers were constantly striking for higher wages to make up for the inflation. FIAT was able to stop these strikes by promising higher wages. On October 28, 1922 the Fascist leader Benito Mussolini took over the Italian government. ĎFascism is a form of totalitarian dictatorship that sought to create a viable society by strict regimentation of national and individual lives; conflicting interests would be adjusted by total sub ordination to the service of the state and unquestioning loyalty to its leader. This meant that FIAT was able to break their promises concerning higher wages and the workers could no longer strike. Although Mussolini was given extraordinary powers, he initially governed constitutionally. In 1924,however, after the violence of the elections, Mussolini suspended the constitutional government and proceeded in stages to establish a dictatorship. He suppressed all opposition parties, established absolute censorship of the press, and forbidding parliament to initiate legislation.
During the world economic depression that began in 1929 the Fascist government increasingly intervened to prevent the collapse of a number of industries including automotive. The government reorganized the iron and steel industries, expanded hydroelectric plants, and helped on other public works projects. So Agnelli, head of the FIAT corporation, went to America to observe Henry Fordís assembly line and in 1929 a new plant was opened in Mirafiori based on what Agnelli had learned. On an assembly line they give a worker an assignment that they perform on every car that passes by on a conveyor belt. Before the assembly line was developed a few people worked on each car from start to finish. The assembly lines were important because they drastically increased the output of the plant. FIAT was able to produce thousands of inexpensive cars. This boosted sales and helped Italy as well as FIAT.
In 1940 Italy entered World War II. In October 1942 the British launched a series of bombing raids against the industrial cities of northern Italy. As advancing British and American forces in North Africa established air bases southern Italy was also bombed. The bombing raids destroyed almost all FIATís Turin plant. In 1943