Giovanni Agnelli

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Giovanni Agnelli
Giovanni Agnelli.jpg
Member of the Senate
In office
29 May 1923 – 7 August 1944
MonarchVictor Emmanuel III
Personal details
Born(1866-08-13)13 August 1866
Villar Perosa, Italy
Died16 December 1945(1945-12-16) (aged 79)
Turin, Italy
Political partyNational Fascist Party
SpouseClara Boselli
ChildrenEdoardo Agnelli (1892–1935)
Aniceta Caterina (1889–1928)
Parent(s)Edoardo Agnelli (1831–1871)
Aniceta Frisetti (1846–1920)
RelativesGianni Agnelli (grandson)
Susanna Agnelli (granddaughter)
Giorgio Agnelli (grandson)
Umberto Agnelli (grandson)
Andrea Agnelli (great-grandson)
John Elkann (great-great-grandson)
EducationHonorary degree in industrial engineering
OccupationBusinessman, politician
Known forFounder of Fiat S.p.A.

Giovanni Agnelli (13 August 1866 – 16 December 1945) was an Italian businessman who founded the Fiat S.p.A. car manufacturing in 1899.

Early life[edit]

The son of Edoardo Agnelli and Aniceta Frisetti, a landowning family who grew up in families rooted in the business, entrepreneurial, and financial environment of Turin on the eve of its industrialization,[1] he was born in 1866 in Villar Perosa, a small town near Pinerolo, Piedmont, still the main home and burial place of the Agnelli family. His father, mayor of Villar Perosa, died at age 40, when he was five. He studied at the Collegio San Giuseppe in Turin, and then embarked on a military career.[2] In 1893, Agnelli returned to Villar Perosa, where he followed in his father's footsteps and became mayor in 1895, a post that he held until his death in 1945; he was succeed by his grandson, Gianni Agnelli,[3] whom he took care of since his son, Edoardo Agnelli, died in a plane accident in 1935.[4][5]

In the late 19th century, Agnelli heard about the invention of the then new horseless carriage and immediately saw an opportunity for using his engineering and entrepreneurial skills.[6] In 1898, he met Count Emanuele Cacherano di Bricherasio, who was looking for investors for his horseless carriage project; Agnelli sensed the opportunity and Fiat was founded in 1899.[7][8][9] He married Clara Boselli; they had seven children.[10][11] As of 2000, from Agnelli and Boselli came over seventy descendents between children, nephews, and spouses.[12]


On 11 July 1899, Agnelli was part of the group of founding members of Fiat S.p.A., an acronym for Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino, which became Fiat; he paid $400 for his share. One year later, he was the managing director of the new company and became the chairman in 1920. The first Fiat plant opened in 1900 with 35 staff making 24 cars.[13] The company was known from the beginning for the talent and creativity of its engineering staff. By 1903, Fiat made a small profit and produced 135 cars growing to 1,149 cars by 1906. The company then went public selling shares via the Milan stock exchange. Agnelli began purchasing all the shares he could to add to his holdings. During this time, he overcame scandals and labour problems, such as in the Biennio Rosso. He asked Giovanni Giolitti to intervene militarily to clear up Fiat's factories; Giolitti refused.[14] When the revolt died down and a workers' delegation, after a failed attempt at self-management, handed him the keys to the factories by demobilizing the armed pickets, he did not seek retaliations. He offered a new contract to workers with wages linked to productivity in a period of economic stagnation.[15]

Agnelli with King Victor Emmanuel III in a limousine at the Fiat Lingotto factory in 1923

During World War I, Agnelli became involved with the financier Riccardo Gualino in transport of United States aid to Europe in 1917.[16] They invested in two enterprises in the United States; the Marine & Commerce Corporation of America exported coal and the International Shipbuilding Company made motorized vessels. These companies failed when the war ended since they were structured to meet wartime demand but had returned large profits to their owners. In early 1918, Agnelli and Gualino made an attempt to take over Credito Italiano.[17] They did not succeed but joined the board of directors of the bank.[18] Agnelli was vice-president of Gualino's SNIA S.p.A. from 1917 to 1926. In the early 1920s, SNIA began to manufacture artificial textile fibers. Suffering from debt, Agnelli offered to help Gualino in exchange for Fiat shares, and by 1927 he became the major shareholder of Fiat.[19]

In 1920, Gualino and Agnelli participated in recapitalization of the private bank Jean de Fernex and bought a third of the shares of Alfredo Frassati, publisher of La Stampa.[20] Gualino and Agnelli were also involved in a proposal to link Milan, Genoa, and Turin with a high-speed railway and in various projects in cement and automobiles. Their partnership broke up around 1926 due to Gualino's investments in the French automobile industry.[17]

After World War I, Fiat jumped from 30th to third place among Italian industrial companies. The first Ford Motor Company factory was opened four years after Fiat was founded. In 1906, the first Fiat car dealer in the United States was established at a location in Manhattan on Broadway.[21] A monarchist, Agnelli sought to create a non-ideological, centrist political formation of Atlanticist and pro-European persuasion that sought a modernazing, internationalist capitalism in contrast to the left and opposed to the populist, nationalist, or fascist right. He was a supporter of Giolitti. Before joining the National List of 1924, he was tempted by the Economic Party for the 1919 Italian general election.[14] He filled several prestigious positions between the two wars, and remained focused and propelled Fiat to the international arena.[22]

Agnelli and fascism[edit]

Mussolini giving a speech in Turin with Agnelli in 1923

An acquaintance of Benito Mussolini since 1914, Agnelli was appointed in 1923 by Mussolini as a senator for the National Fascist Party.[23] His newspaper La Stampa distanced themselves from Mussolini; thanks to his connections with the House of Savoy, he could assert autonomy from the Italian fascist regime. As an example, he appointed Curzio Malaparte, who was disliked by Mussolini, as director of La Stampa, and took on as private tutor of his grandson the liberal anti-fascist Franco Antonicelli,[24] and allowed his nephews to attend as their tutor the anti-fascist Augusto Monti, and another anti-fascist, Massimo Mila, as their musicologist.[25] In addition, he sought as accountant Vittorio Valletta, who was known to the Fascist regime for his social democratic ideas, membership in Freemasonry, and clandestine connections with exiled anti-fascists in France, including Giuseppe Saragat.[15] Mussolini described Agnelli as too old to be fascist, and he was suspected by the regime of helping the anti-fascist movement Giustizia e Libertà in the 1930s.[25]

In 1927, Mussolini felt compelled to warn his superiors, in the words of historian Valerio Castronovo, of "the serious and absurd danger that Fiat ended up considering itself as an intangible and sacred institution of the State, on a par with the Dynasty, the Church, the Regime..."[25] Mussolini was able to impose the Fascio card on Agnelli since 1932, when he wore the cimice all'occhiello. The Fascist secret police kept Angelli under control, and one report stood up in reference to a meeting between Agnelli and Cesare Pavese, who introduced Mila to him. When telling him that he was an anti-fascist, Agnelli was reported to have said: "Better yet..."[25] Agnelli also unsuccessfully tried to help Monti when he was arrested; once he was released from prison, he found a note from Agnelli that complimented him for having been a real man and a true Piedmontese. In the words of Castronovo, Agnelli's Piedmontism "combined the Savoyard tradition, the sense of almost military discipline, and the spirit of conquest: he had been educated in the manner of the Piedmontese nobility, that same elite that initially had struggled to welcome him, dismissing him as a provincial. His Piedmontism, moreover, was innervated by Americanism and a strong utopian vocation."[25]

Asked whether Agnelli could be considered an anti-fascist, Castronovo said: "No, for him fascism still remained the regime that guaranteed 'effective labour discipline' and with which it was necessary — bon gré, mal gré — to coexist in the interests of one's industry. On the other hand, although the Fascist government continued to have an eye for Fiat, Agnelli had remained substantially extraneous to the trafficking of the great fascist bosses."[25] In reference to Agnelli's defence of the press, Marziano Bernardi was more than once called on the phone by Malaparte, who once told him: "I'm stunned! Colli [the newspaper's administrator] and Senator Agnelli behave like anti-fascists and I think they are..."[25] Castronovo maintains that the defence of Fiat's autonomy from Fascist interference produced a sort of conflictual solidarity between Agnelli and the Fiat workers, and said: "Perhaps solidarity is a bit of a strong word. But it is certain that Agnelli's afascism and the opposition of the workers prevented fascism from taking firm roots in the Piedmontese capital. So much so that Mussolini unleashed the famous invective against the dirty city of Turin."[25]

Later life and death[edit]

Agnelli with his grandson in 1940

Agnelli was still active with Fiat at the start of World War II. After the war ended, he was accused together with Valletta and Giancarlo Camerana by a commission from the National Liberation Committee of collaboration with the Fascist regime and was temporarily deprived of ownership of his companies.[26][27] While they shared mutual benefits in the field of war orders, Fiat always maintained a line of independence from the Fascist regime's totalitarian aspirations.[28] In his work about the Italian resistance, Sergio Favretto's book argues that Fiat was actively involved alongside the resistance; the company supplied vehicles and petrol, made large sums available to support the movement, and collaborated in the sabotage of war production in its own plants.[29] Agnelli was later acquitted,[30] and he died soon after on 16 December 1945 at age 79.[31][32]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Vi racconto le famiglie Agnelli e Frisetti. Di Giulia Ajmone Marsan". Focus (in Italian). 16 December 2021. Retrieved 16 February 2023.
  2. ^ Rizzo, Renato (20 May 2005). "Nizza Cavalleria, suona l'ora dell'ultima carica". La Stampa (in Italian). Archived from the original on 3 May 2010. Retrieved 9 February 2023.
  3. ^ "La famiglia Agnelli". Villar Perosa. 19 July 2004. Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 7 February 2023.
  4. ^ Kovick, Margaret (9 March 2021). "The personal history of Giovanni 'Gianni' Agnelli". Wanted in Rome. Retrieved 7 February 2023.
  5. ^ Castellani, Massimo (23 December 2022). "Calcio. Juventus, 100 anni sotto la real casa Agnelli". Avvenire (in Italian). Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  6. ^ Rizzo, Renato (20 May 2005). "Nizza Cavalleria, suona l'ora dell'ultima carica". La Stampa (in Italian). Archived from the original on 3 May 2010. Retrieved 9 February 2023.
  7. ^ Cardoza, Anthony L. (8 August 2002). Aristocrats in Bourgeois Italy: The Piedmontese Nobility, 1861–1930. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 171. ISBN 978-0-521-52229-8. Retrieved 8 February 2023 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ Clark, Jennifer (21 November 2011). Mondo Agnelli: Fiat, Chrysler, and the Power of a Dynasty. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. p. 32. ISBN 978-1-118-23611-6. Retrieved 8 February 2023 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ Kuper, Simon (30 November 2020). "Juve! 100 Years of an Italian Football Dynasty". Financial Times. Retrieved 22 February 2023. Giovanni Agnelli thought there might be a future in horseless carriages, so in 1899 he co-founded Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino, or Fiat.
  10. ^ Turani, Giuseppe (25 January 2003). "L'Avvocato". La Repubblica (in Italian). Retrieved 16 February 2023.
  11. ^ Brugnatelli, Pia (14 July 2022). "Gli Agnelli". Storica (in Italian). National Geographic Italia. Retrieved 16 February 2023.
  12. ^ "Settanta Agnelli la grande dinastia". La Repubblica (in Italian). 15 November 2000. Retrieved 16 February 2023.
  13. ^ "Timeline: Key events in Fiat's history". Reuters. 20 May 2009. Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  14. ^ a b Cingolani, Stefano (24 January 2013). "Quando Agnelli disse: 'Berlusconi in politica? Prende il 3%'". Linkiesta (in Italian). Retrieved 7 February 2023.
  15. ^ a b Galli, Giancarlo (27 August 2010). "FIAT. Il filo rosso mai spezzato fra gli Agnelli e il Palazzo". Avvenire (in Italian). Retrieved 7 February 2023.
  16. ^ Zamagni, Vera (28 October 1993). The Economic History of Italy 1860–1990. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 276. ISBN 978-0-19-159022-1. Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  17. ^ a b Chiapparino, Francesco (2003). "Gualino, Riccardo". Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (in Italian). Vol. 60. Treccani. Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  18. ^ Zamagni, Vera (28 October 1993). The Economic History of Italy 1860–1990. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 233. ISBN 978-0-19-159022-1. Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  19. ^ "L' azionista Gualino andò in crisi e Agnelli sr. prese il controllo". La Repubblica (in Italian). 21 September 1998. Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  20. ^ "Riccardo Gualino". Storia e Cultura dell'Industria (in Italian). Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  21. ^ Toninelli, Pier Angelo (June 2009). "Between Agnelli and Mussolini: Ford's Unsuccessful Attempt to Penetrate the Italian Automobile Market in the Interwar Period". Enterprise & Society. 10 (2): 335–375. doi:10.1093/es/khp005. ISSN 1467-2227.
  22. ^ Berend, Ivan T. (22 September 2016). An Economic History of Twentieth-Century Europe: Economic Regimes from Laissez-Faire to Globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 37. ISBN 978-1-1071-3642-7. Retrieved 8 February 2023 – via Google Books.
  23. ^ Sarti, Roland (1968). "Fascism and the Industrial Leadership in Italy before the March on Rome". Industrial and Labor Relations Review. 21 (3): 400–417. doi:10.2307/2520460. ISSN 0019-7939. JSTOR 2520460.
  24. ^ Giva, Giorgio (10 August 2020). "Accadde oggi – Valletta, il capo della Fiat che avvicinò gli italiani all'auto". FIRSTonline (in Italian). Retrieved 11 February 2023.
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h Fiori, Simonetta (7 July 1999). "L'Italia vista dalla Fiat". La Repubblica (in Italian). Retrieved 11 February 2023.
  26. ^ Ori, Angiolo Silvio (1996). Storia di una dinastia. Gli Agnelli e la Fiat. Cronache non autorizzate dei cento anni della più grande industria italiana. Rome: Editori riuniti. ISBN 88-359-4059-1. OCLC 35697068.
  27. ^ Giacché, Vladimiro. "Cent'anni di improntitudine. Ascesa e caduta della FIAT". Proteo (in Italian) (2002–03). Retrieved 11 February 2023.
  28. ^ Amatori, Franco (2020). "Valletta, Vittorio". Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (in Italian). Vol. 98. Retrieved 11 February 2023 – via Treccani.
  29. ^ Facciolo, Marco (9 February 2017). "Quando Valletta si nascose sulle colline del Monferrato". La Stampa (in Italian). Retrieved 11 February 2023.
  30. ^ "Agnelli, Giovanni". National Archives System. Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  31. ^ Galletto, Pietro (1996). La Resistenza in Italia e nel Veneto. San Zenone degli Ezzelini: Giovanni Battagin Editore. p. 137.
  32. ^ Francesconi, Giovanna (28 November 2022). "Virginia Bourbon Del Monte: una Agnelli Dimenticata". Vanilla Magazine. Retrieved 7 February 2023.
  33. ^ Johnson, Richard. "Thirteen wise men who shaped the course of European auto history". Automotive News. European Automotive Hall of Fame. Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  34. ^ "Giovanni Agnelli". Automotive Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 8 February 2023.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]