A history of success, a future in excellence

The industrial roots of Leonardo before 1948

Leonardo is at the leading edge of Italy’s industrial development and has been since 1948, paving the way for its expansion abroad. Yet, Leonardo’s industrial roots date back much further. Many companies merge into the Group over time. In some cases they change their name and specialism, and many have origins dating back to the early 1900s or even the 19th Century.

Brochure: “A legacy leading to the future”, a brief journey into Leonardo’s history


A rich heritage in Italy and the United Kingdom

Giovanni Agusta, founder of the company that bears his name, builds his first biplane in 1907. This heralds a long industrial tradition in the fixed-wing sector and then in helicopters.

In the United Kingdom, Westland Aircraft begins manufacturing warplanes for the Royal Naval Air Service in 1915 at its historic Yeovil plant. The collaboration between Agusta and Westland dates to 1965. The partnership eventually leads to the AgustaWestland joint venture, which is followed by the creation of Leonardo’s Helicopter Division.

Agusta plant, 1938


Pioneers of aviation throughout Italy

Leonardo's aeronautical tradition has many elements. Nieuport-Macchi (1913), SIAI Marchetti (1915) and Breda Aeronautica (1919) operate in Northern Italy, alongside the aeronautical activity of FIAT (1916) and Ansaldo (1917).

Officine Ferroviarie Meridionali (1904) builds its first aircraft in Southern Italy in 1925. Following different paths and bringing together various industrial businesses, they are united to form Alenia Aermacchi. In turn this becomes Leonardo’s Aircraft and Aerostructures Divisions

Alenia Aermacchi - Nieuport XVII Transport, 1917


150 years at the cutting edge of technology

Expertise from many businesses eventually converges into a single entity. In Italy: Officine Galileo (1864), San Giorgio (1906), Officine Marconi (1906) and Salmoiraghi (1865); in the United Kingdom: Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company (1897), Plessey (1917) and Ferranti (1882).

These companies forge their reputations in electronics, ICT, communication systems, electro-optical systems, avionics, radar and space components. Ultimately, their know-how enables the creation of Selex ES which is subsequently transformed into Leonardo’s Electronics and Cyber Security Divisions.

Officine Galileo - Laboratory from the early 1900s


Supporting the Armed Forces for more than a century

In La Spezia, Vickers-Terni (1905) develops and produces weapons and systems for the Italian Navy and Army. In Milan, Breda (1886) manufactures arms and ammunition.

Meanwhile, in Rijeka (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), Torpedo Fabrik von Robert Whitehead (1875) produces torpedoes for Navies both in Europe and worldwide. These pioneering companies lay the foundations for OTO Melara and WASS, which are subsequently merged into Leonardo’s Electronics Division.  


The reconstruction of Italy and the launch of Finmeccanica

The end of the Second World War leaves Italian industry in a critical state. Production facilities suffer devastating damage. Businesses transformed during wartime, especially mechanical engineering companies, take on activities that are no longer sustainable in peacetime. In response, the IRI creates Finmeccanica. It is a new State holding company for the mechanical and shipbuilding industries and is entrusted with the challenge of restoring a future for these businesses.

Finmeccanica, an Italian holding company for the mechanical and shipbuilding industries, is founded

At this time a group of Italian companies boast a strong industrial heritage, but they face an uncertain future. These businesses are re-grouped under the banner of Finmeccanica: Ansaldo, Alfa Romeo, Odero Terni Orlando, San Giorgio, Cantieri Navali dell’Adriatico and Filotecnica Salmoiraghi. The management concentrates on the automotive, rail and industrial machinery sectors, with a focus on emerging electronics.

Ansaldo San Giorgio - Three-phase alternator polar wheel - Genova Cornigliano Electrotechnical plant

Finmeccanica lays the foundations for Microlambda, Italy's first radar company

Launch of the transatlantic liner Andrea Doria

Microlambda, a company specialising in research in applied electronics, is founded to build radars under a licence from US company Raytheon. Microlambda quickly develops expertise in radar technology by applying the state-of-the-art technical know-how from the United States and taking part in prestigious international programmes. 

Meanwhile, the Ansaldo of Sestri Ponente (Genoa) shipyard sends the Andrea Doria on its maiden voyage. This ship is the biggest and fastest passenger vessel in the Italian fleet.

Microlambda - Wiring Department

The rise of Nuova San Giorgio, a forerunner in electronics

Nuova San Giorgio rises out of a spin-off of some of the original San Giorgio's production activities. These include textile machinery, optical instrumentation and on-board auxiliary equipment. At the end of the 1950s, the company steers a new course towards the electronics sector. It begins production of numerical control systems for machine tools and postal automation systems.

San Giorgio - Coil processing plant - Genova Sestri

OTO Melara is born

OTO Melara is created after numerous company changes and the spin-off of the former Odero Terni Orlando's shipbuilding activities. The new business focuses on the production of naval and land artillery. OTO Melara is soon appointed as  the first contractor for the Italian Navy and Army, building military vehicles and weapons. From the 1960s onwards, it becomes an industry leader in Italy and later establishes itself on the global stage.

OTO Melara  -  Worker apprenticeships

Finmeccanica creates Aerfer, a major aeronautical and railway hub in southern Italy

Industrie Meccaniche Aeronautiche Meridionali Aerfer inherits the aeronautical factories in Pomigliano d’Arco (Naples) formerly owned by Finmeccanica, and IMAM – Industrie Meccaniche Aeronautiche Meridionali – the historic military aircraft producer.

Aerfer specialises in repair and overhaul, and aerostructures. It begins a series of collaborations with major foreign manufacturers to supply components for commercial aircraft.

Aerfer - Sagittario II supersonic fighter

Finmeccanica’s shipbuilding activities are spun off and merge into the newly-formed Fincantieri

After leaving the shipbuilding industry, Finmeccanica gradually concentrates on the automotive (50%), electromechanical (10%), railway (5%) and industrial machinery (5%) sectors.

To support employment, Finmeccanica launches new industrial initiatives, regularly signing agreements with foreign partners and entering diverse sectors. The most significant examples relate to electronics and radar technologies.

Genova Sestri shipyard - Leonardo da Vinci ready for launch

Microlambda and Sindel merge to form Selenia, a Finmeccanica electronics company

The electronic engineering company Sindel is founded in 1956 by a small group of Microlambda engineers, with the support of Edison in Italy.

The initial aim of the merger with Microlambda is to collaborate on the Hawk missile battery, a NATO ground defence programme. Selenia soon becomes a global centre of excellence, producing satellites, radar equipment, missile systems and technologies for telecommunications, defence and air traffic control. 

Selenia - First radar technical team

The economic boom and the founding of Aeritalia

Finmeccanica is a key player in the rapid industrialisation that takes place in the early 1960s. There is a boom in the automotive industry alongside development of national programmes in both the energy and transport sectors. In the second half of the decade, the Group focuses more on high-technology sectors such as automotive, thermo-electro-mechanical  and aerospace.

Alfa Romeo introduces the Giulia 1300 TI

The Autodromo di Monza sees the introduction of a revolutionary car – the Giulia. An evolution of the Giulietta, which was very successful in the 1950s, the Giulia marks the move from the historic Portello plant to the modern Arese complex. Portello can no longer handle the growing production volumes. The Giulia proves to be one of the best-selling cars in the history of Alfa Romeo.

Selenia launches the ATCR-2 radar

Selenia begins designing civil air traffic control systems in 1961 and completes the ATCR-2 radar in 1963. This is the first civil radar system designed by Italian companies, building on their experience gained under NATO contract. Selenia rapidly becomes a leading player in this sector and develops greatly within the Finmeccanica Group, selling ATC systems globally.

Selenia-OTE - ATC Systems - Ground and Air-to-Ground Radio Communications

Aerfer participates in the DC-9 programme

OTO Melara unveils the 76/62 Compact naval gun

Aerfer’s first major sub-contracting agreement with the American company Douglas is for DC-9 fuselage panels. The DC-9 is a new short-to-medium range passenger airliner which achieves long-term commercial success. Following this breakthrough come further collaborations with McDonnell Douglas for the DC-10 and MD-80 programmes. 

The new version of the 76/62 naval gun, first introduced in the 1950s, becomes OTO Melara’s most successful product and is sold to customers worldwide. 

OTO Melara - Naval cannon 76-62

The Ansaldo Group undergoes a major reorganisation

Selenia participates in the NADGE programme

Finmeccanica reorganises Ansaldo to create a single complex that will lead production of plant and machinery for energy, industry and electrified transport. Thus, Asgen (Ansaldo San Giorgio Compagnia Generale) and Ansaldo Meccanico Nucleare are founded. 

The NADGE (NATO Air Defence Ground Environment) ground defence system integrates the European radar network with that of NATO. This marks a turning point for Selenia as it steers towards new technological frontiers. 

Selenia - Technicians working on the NADGE system

The railway companies are sold to EFIM, as is OTO Melara five years later

To become more competitive, the Group needs greater ‘specialisation’ in its existing sectors. This leads to a departure from the naval and ground artillery, and railway sectors.

Some of the non-core industrial activities are also sold to safeguard manufacturing and attract the interest of private investors. Meanwhile, the new Alfa Romeo production plant opens in Pomigliano d’Arco (Naples).

Aeritalia - Experience Laboratory, Pomigliano d'Arco (Naples)

Finmeccanica and FIAT create Aeritalia for the aerospace sector

Elsag is founded

The merging of Aerfer and FIAT Aviazione (and subsequently Salmoiraghi and FIAT Spazio) is significant. It creates a major corporation capable of leading the way in high-technology content for the aeronautical and space industry.

Aeritalia soon becomes globally competitive, partly due to alliances it forges with foreign manufacturers for large-scale aeronautical programmes. 

In this same period, San Giorgio becomes Elsag in response to the ‘technological revolution’ of 1969, focusing on electronics and industrial automation.

Aeritalia - F104S final assembly

The electronics companies (Selenia and Elsag) are sold to STET

At the start of the 1970s, Finmeccanica undergoes a major transformation. The company drastically cuts the number of industrial sectors it operates in: concentrating on automotive (Alfa Romeo), thermo-electro-mechanical (Ansaldo) and aerospace (Aeritalia).

The Group reaches significant scale within these sectors, committing considerable financial and professional resources. 

Aeritalia - G.222 front fuselage

The energy crisis and early internationalisation

The 1973 energy crisis triggers a recession that will affect the world economy for many years. Inflation and the crisis in its key markets forces Finmeccanica to alter its industrial policy. In 1976 a new strategic plan outlines the company's objectives: reorganisation, internationalisation and competitiveness. Meeting these aims means giving up many non-core activities. This leads to a series of companies being sold to enable the business to focus on the electro-mechanical and aerospace industries.

Alfa Romeo introduces Alfasud

Presented in a preview at the Turin Motor Show in 1971, the Alfasud begins its ascent to become the most-produced model in the history of the brand. Over one million units are made between 1971 and 1989. It is also the first car manufactured at the Pomigliano d’Arco (Naples) plant, inaugurated three years earlier.

Alfa Romeo - Alfasud car assembly - Pomigliano d’Arco plant (Naples)

Aeritalia participates in the Spacelab project, the scientific laboratory on board the Shuttle.

Developed by NASA and ESRO, the Spacelab marks a turning point for the Italian space industry. Italy becomes a key player in Europe’s space sector thanks to the expertise and technology of Aeritalia.

Other Italian and European projects follow. These transform Aeritalia into the largest Italian space company and one of the leading European space enterprises.

Spacelab in the cargo bay of the Columbia space shuttle

FIAT leaves Aeritalia. The great international aerospace programme phase begins

Finmeccanica becomes the sole owner of this fledgling company, whose future is assured by extensive international expansion.

Aeritalia's industrial capabilities soon enable it to move from the role of sub-contractor to become a partner in international programmes.

It participates from both a design and financial perspective in the space industry and in aeronautics, covering both civil and military aircraft.

Aeritalia - Assembly of avionic equipment - Nerviano plant (Milan)

SIRIO, the first Italian satellite designed and built by Aeritalia, is launched

The first Tornado takes flight

Launched on 26 August 1977 from the US base at Cape Canaveral, SIRIO - Satellite Italiano di Ricerca Industriale e Operativa - signals a major step forward for Aeritalia on the international space scene. 

Meanwhile, in the aeronautical sector, the company flies the tri-national Tornado fighter-bomber for the first time, a project it inherits from FIAT.

Aeritalia - SIRIO Programme

Aeritalia signs an agreement with Boeing to participate in the B767 programme

For the first time, Aeritalia becomes a programme partner, this time with the world's largest aerospace company, Boeing. Collaborating with Boeing allows the company to develop innovative carbon fibre processing technology. It uses this technology to manufacture the composite materials used for the aerostructures it is responsible for in the programme.

Aeritalia quickly earns an undisputed leadership role in the sector.

Aeritalia - Boeing 767 at Caselle

Ansaldo Trasporti is established and listed on the Milan Stock Exchange in 1986

In response to the energy crisis, Finmeccanica focuses on increasing the value of the railway sector. It groups together in Ansaldo Trasporti all activities relating to electrified rail transport. These include traction equipment, power supply systems, signalling, safety and control, automation systems, engines and equipment.

Ansaldo Trasporti - Carajas -  São Luís railway line, Brazil

Open markets and focusing on electronics

The 1980s are characterised by the long economic crisis that begins in 1973, particularly affecting the automotive sector. The decade also sees markets open up to competition. Businesses now face significant international competition, triggering a stream of acquisitions and alliances that will completely redesign entire industrial sectors within 10 years. Finmeccanica embarks on a new phase of national and international acquisitions. 

Aeritalia and Aérospatiale (today Airbus) create ATR

Aeronautical acquisitions begin

On 16 August 1984, the ATR-42 prototype completes its maiden flight. This new regional turboprop aircraft paves the way for one of the Finmeccanica Group's biggest successes in the aeronautical industry. With this new aircraft type, Italy becomes part of a close-knit circle of nations capable of manufacturing civil airliners to the highest standards.

Aeritalia acquires Officine Aeronavali Venezia. Two years later it buys a 25% stake in Aeronautica Macchi, with which it manufactures the AMX.

ATR - ATR-42 first flight

Alfa Romeo is sold to FIAT

The Eurofighter consortium is formed

The 1973 energy crisis and growing international competition has a profound impact on Alfa Romeo. The only way to ensure its future is to draw up an agreement with a rival car manufacturer in the shape of FIAT. In 1987, after being sold to FIAT, the last prestigious car conceived of and built by the Finmeccanica Group and designed by Pininfarina is released to the market: the Alfa 164

In the meantime, Aeritalia secures a 21% share in the production of what will become Typhoon, the new-generation European fighter aircraft.

Alenia - Eurofighter Typhoon

The 1987 budget opens a new international development phase

Finmeccanica becomes a joint-stock company

At the end of the 1980s, Finmeccanica acquires companies in the electronics, industrial automation and rail signalling sectors. The aim is to increase its competitiveness internationally. 

Driven by the need to secure financing and sustain growth, the company takes its first steps on the road towards being listed on the Stock Exchange. On 21 May 1987, Finmeccanica takes on the new corporate name Finmeccanica S.p.A, a joint-stock company.

Elsag - Advanced robotic systems

Aeritalia acquires Meteor and enters the remotely piloted aircraft sector

Finmeccanica enters a sector at the cutting edge of technology. The unmanned sector will go on to experience phenomenal development in the coming years.

Meteor boasts consolidated expertise in producing light aircraft, unmanned air targets, tactical surveillance systems and unmanned reconnaissance. It has already achieved international success.

Meteor Costruzioni Aeronautiche ed Elettroniche - Mirach 100-5

Electronics companies Selenia and Elsag return to Finmeccanica

Elsag Bailey is founded

Finmeccanica enters sectors at the forefront of electronics technology. These include command and control systems, missiles, robotics, and microelectronic components. 

Elsag acquires Bailey Control, an American process and service automation company. The move creates a leading global group specialising in continuous industrial process automation.