Officine Galileo:150 years of history and technology

Officine Galileo:150 years of history and technology

Officine Galileo of Campi Bisenzio (Florence) celebrated the 150th anniversary on October 26th. This is the symbol of technological excellence, a path started in 1864 with the production of scientific and astronomic instruments and continues still today.


The company has become Finmeccanica-Selex ES and, since January 2013, it brings together in a single company the business skills that make it one of the leaders of the European secotor of defense and security electronics.


The event featured the presence of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti, who were welcomed by the Chief Executive Officer and General Manager of Finmeccanica Mauro Moretti. Also attending the event: Army and Navy Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Giuseppe De Giorgi and General Claudio Graziano, the president of the Tuscany region, Enrico Rossi, the mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella, the mayor of Campi Bisenzio, Emiliano Fossi and the Archbishop of Florence, Card. Joseph Betori.


At the end of the day, the Prime Minister presided over the naming ceremony after the historic company of the stretch of the road in front of the factory, which has been renamed “Officine Galileo” in honor of technological, professional and human assets inherited by the production plan.


 The photo exhibition "A look beyond", held in the yard of the factory, allowed to go back in time through a collection of pictures of the last 150 years of products, processes and people.


The site of Campi Bisenzio also hosts the "Museum of Technology" of Finmeccanica - Selex ES, with unique examples of Officine Galileo past production: from frames to cameras, from telescopes mirrors to measurement and precision equipment. The plant is now the company's center of excellence for the design and manufacture of electro-optical systems for land terrestrial  and space applications, seekers, radars, sonar systems and secure communications equipment for professional and secure communications.





The origins

Selex ES was established on 1 January 2013 as the union of Defence and Security electronics companies of the Finmeccanica Group SELEX Elsag, SELEX Galileo and SELEX Sistemi Integrati, to create an integrated business based on advanced technologies, products and consolidated capacities that are the result of the skills inherited from the long history of the three companies.


Among these, the oldest is Officine Galileo, founded in 1864 to produce aiming, tracking and firing equipment, before extending its production to include space equipment.


The oldest origins of Officine Galileo lie in the long-standing Florentine tradition in the construction of optical/scientific measurement and precision instruments, whose roots are based precisely in the work of Galileo Galilei and in the boost that was given to this business in the 17th century by the Medici family, also with the consent of the historic Accademia del Cimento.


In 1831, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopoldo II, called the scientist and engineer Giovanni Battista Amici from Modena, to manage the Florentine Specola (Observatory) museum. In order to overcome the difficulties and costs of provisioning scientific instruments, Mr Amici decided to start-up his own workshop and put together a group of scientists and technicians  devoted to the construction of precision optical instruments, such as telescopes, binoculars and microscopes.

Officine Galileo

Following the unification of Italy, the scientist proposed creating a real an actual company, a project that was then pursued after his death, in 1863, by the Pisa-born scientist Giovanni Battista Donati, professor Angioli Vegni and technician Giuseppe Poggiali.


In 1864, in the Technical Institute workshop of Florence, a laboratory was organised for the construction of precision instruments and technicians training. The first document bearing the name "Officine Galileo" dates back to 1870 and refers to the request made to the local council for land on which to build a construction in the outlying district of Cure.


In 1873, the factory counted approximately forty workers manufacturing precision optical and mechanical materials such as: anemometers, sonometers, topographs, galvanometers, binoculars, spectroscopes, compasses, electrodynamometers, watches for towers, precision scales and, above all, the famous "Amici telemeter", the forerunner of modern radars.

In 1880, production of military instruments for the Regia Marina began with the hydro electromagnetic rudder, then continued with coastal telemeters and goniostadiometers, also ordered by the Japanese government.


In 1896, the company, which by that time counted a hundred or so employees, became a limited partnership owned by Giulio Martinez (just twenty-five years old, who served the Navy), who yet further focused production on military sector. New products were launched and soon the company had become a real industry, doubling in size (in 1904, it counted more than 200 employees). Production of periscopes and firing instruments began, whilst the production of teaching and laboratory instruments took on a secondary role, before being abandoned entirely during the twentieth century.


In 1907, the joint-stock company "Officine Galileo" was established by the electric company Sade (Società adriatica di elettricità) owned by Giuseppe Volpi, the shipyards of Livorno owned by Giuseppe Orlando and other entrepreneurs active at the time. Giuseppe Orlando was appointed Chairman, with Mr Volpi and Guglielmo Marconi acting as Deputy Chairmen. In 1908, with the development of the Rifredi railway station, the offices were moved to Via Carlo Bini, in a new, larger plant.


The first world war brought with it considerable development. The workforce grew to almost 2,000. In 1929, F. Koristka, the Milan-based company specialised in mechanical optics (Zeiss patents) was established, and thereafter various plants were opened throughout Italy. The rearmament resulted in a further consolidation of the company, which in 1937 counted 3300 employees in the plants of Milan and Florence.


In 1943, the Florence plant employed more than 4,500 workers, but the trade union disputes first, followed by the heavy bombing thereafter, threatened the productivity. The resumption of activity at the end of the war was characterised by an extensive diversification of production that, in addition to keeping the products for civil use already present in the catalogue, also extended into very different sectors, ranging from looms for weaving to lighters, refrigerators and cameras; in this context, Officine Galileo faced up to the market initiating a commercial collaboration with Ferrania for the production of photographic equipment.


In the 1950s, production for the military sector resumed, with orders placed by the US government and NATO, which brought employment to rise to approximately 2,000. OTO Melara adopts hydraulic parts produced by Galileo for its anti-aircraft guns. A new period of union conflicts exploded between 1958 and 1960. In 1964, Milan's optical production was moved to Florence and in 1972 the former Koristka plant was closed. In the 1960s, balance was restored, also thanks to the participation of the company in European space programmes.

Arrival in Finmeccanica

Following the nationalisation of the electric industry, the company was taken over by Montedison. It was decided to reorganize the company, separating the textile business off into its own entity, specialising Officine in precision mechanics and instruments, in mechanical-optics and teaching equipment. In 1980, the plants were moved to a new base created in Campi Bisenzio.


After further changes of hands, Officine Galileo entered in Finmeccanica in 1992, with the handover of the business in the Defence and Railways of EFIM (Agusta, Breda Meccanica Bresciana, Breda costruzioni ferroviarie, OTO Melara), a state-owned entity that was being liquidated. Whilst with EFIM, Officine Galileo had become a complex company with businesses that varied considerably: optics, infra-red sensors, firing units, optical instruments, thermal sensors and, above all, a great capability in the field of optronics equipment. At that time SMA - Segnalamento Marittimo e Ferroviario, a company operating in the shipping and land-based radar sector, was acquired.


Following the arrival in Finmeccanica in 1996, the business of Officine Galileo flowed into Alenia Difesa, and in 2001, following further changes in the company structures, becoming Galileo Avionica, created from the Avionics Systems Division and equipment of Alenia Difesa, which, in turn, acquired the control of Meteor, also previously flowed into the same area of Alenia Difesa.


In 2003, the addition of the guided missile business of Meteor, with the historic plant of Ronchi dei Legionari, enriched the competences of the company in the autonomous flight systems, whilst with the incorporation of the FIAR business, the experience in the avionic and space field grew further.

Selex Galileo and the Marconi companies

tracking, targeting, navigation & control and vision sectors, with a major international presence, particularly in the United Kingdom, where its history, once again, crossed paths with Guglielmo Marconi. Indeed, its origins in Great Britain date back to the Marconi company, established by the Italian physicist in 1897. In 1946, the company was acquired by the English Electric Company, then replaced in 1968 by GEC (General Electric Company), leading manufacturer in the defence industry.


These were years of great growth, during which the company took on the name of GEC-Marconi (1987), making further acquisitions: Plessey (1989), with its radars and avionics systems, and Ferranti (1993), supplier of electronics and radars.


Given the ongoing reorganization of the European aerospace industry, which gave rise first to joint ventures and then to transnational corporate consolidations, it created with FinmeccanicaAlenia Marconi Systems (AMS) in 1998, a joint venture that grouped together the businesses of both companies in the radar, terrestrial and naval command and control systems, as well as missile systems and air traffic control systems.


The GEC defence business was purchased by British Aerospace in 1999, creating BAE Systems, which thus took over the joint venture with Finmeccanica. In 2005, through the EuroSystems agreement stipulated with BAE, Finmeccanica then took over the whole avionics, electro-optics and airborne radar business, creating Selex Sensors and Airborne Systems, which then, in 2008, flowed into SELEX Galileo.


Today, with a workforce of17,000 people and main offices in Italy and the United Kingdom and a customer portfolio that spans five continents, the history of Selex continues to be that of a "factory of innovation", investing 17% of its annual income in research and development and continuing to design and develop technological solutions for a safer, more protected, smarter society.

Campi Bisenzio 31/10/2014