1948 - 1960 Reconstruction in Italy and the beginnings of Finmeccanica

The history trail


The Società Finanziaria Meccanica - Finmeccanica was founded on 18 March 1948 by the IRI-Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale (Italian Institute for Industrial Reconstruction) to manage all the holdings in the mechanical engineering and shipbuilding industry acquired in the first fifteen years of the Institute’s existence. The “mission” granted to the fledgling Finmeccanica was to acquire shareholdings in companies operating in the mechanical engineering and shipbuilding industry, handle their reorganisation and technical coordination and provide them, in the form considered most appropriate, with the necessary financial assistance. The end of the Second World War had left Italian industry in general – and the IRI in particular – in a very critical condition: plants had been destroyed by bombings and businesses, which until then had essentially been producing arms orders, were in no position to make the quick transition to civil jobs. Within this transformation process, industrial policy decisions left the IRI (and therefore to Finmeccanica) responsible for any activities which, because of the technology, plant structure or market involved, presented more uncertain or negative prospects.

The transformation of the arms industry

Just a little information helps to understand the size of the problem Finmeccanica had to face. In 1938 the mechanical engineering industries of the IRI had 70,000 employees. After the war, as a result of the demand for arms, the workforce had risen to 100,000 people, and in the meantime all the end markets had essentially disappeared. In shipbuilding, which accounted for 70% of the Group’s jobs, Finmeccanica’s first Annual Report stated: “Since 1945 no significant orders for new constructions have been received from the Italian merchant navy”. The directors at that time had to find new outlets for companies with a glorious past and names that would remain at the heart of the Italian economy for the next 50 years: Ansaldo, Alfa Romeo, OTO, San Giorgio, Sant’Eustachio, Navalmeccanica and Cantieri Navali dell’Adriatico. Attention focused on sectors such as shipbuilding, car manufacturing, railways and industrial machinery, with special consideration given to the emerging electronics industry. The first rationalisation was made with regard to shipbuilding activities. In 1959 the IRI set up Fincantieri in which it gathered together all the shipbuilding companies. With 37,000 employees and revenue in excess of 100 billion lira, these companies constituted the starting point for a real development programme.


Ansaldo, which came to Finmeccanica, was an important complex, but one in a manufacturing and financial crisis. It had 30,000 employees, but only 19,400 were active. Soon after the war, the company had started an initial reorganisation focussing particularly on shipbuilding, thermoelectric power stations and railway production, whilst maintaining many other internal activities which coexisted without any real integration. Finmeccanica’s first operations, as a new shareholder in Ansaldo, were focussed on an initial “rationalisation” of Ansaldo’s activities: compacting some manufacturing activities together with the manufacturing work of other Finmeccanica group companies, acquiring foreign licences in the electro-technical sector for the production of steam turbines, wind turbines and boilers, and the reorganisation of railway production.

New initiatives

At the start of 1960, Finmeccanica was more consistent and compact, with 30,000 employees and revenue of 124 billion lira (20% from export). The car sector accounted for 50% of these volumes, followed by electro-mechanics and electronics (10%), railways (5%), and industrial machinery (5%), still with a consistent presence of various activities. Meanwhile, to support employment, Finmeccanica launched new industrial initiatives, often in association with foreign partners, which ranged from semiconductors (Ates, 1959) to radar systems (Selenia, 1960), from rolling stock (Omeca, 1961) to machinery for synthetic fibres (S.M.T., 1961).
Selenia in particular was established by merging Sindel and Microlambda, the only company in Italy to produce state-of-the-art radar licensed by the US company Raytheon. At the time this was the most advanced radar technology in the world. Soon Selenia became a global centre of excellence for the production of satellites, radar facilities, and telecommunications, defence, and air traffic control systems.

Find out more

  • Ansaldo (Genoa)
  • OTO - Odero Terni Orlando (Genoa)
  • San Giorgio Società Industriale (Genoa Sestri)
  • Alfa Romeo(Milan)
  • Filotecnica Salmoiraghi (Milan)
  • Motomeccanica (Milan)
  • Stabilimenti Sant'Eustacchio (Brescia)
  • Arsenale Triestino (Trieste)
  • Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico (Trieste)
  • Fa.Ma. Fabbrica Macchine  (Naples)
  • Industria Meccanica Napoletana (Baia – Naples)
  • Metalmeccanica Meridionale (Naples)
  • Navalmeccanica (Naples)
  • Stabilimenti Meccanici Pozzuoli (Pozzuoli – Naples)

This was a historic company founded in 1853 in Genoa Sampierdarena. That year, as part of the new railway construction policy established by the State of Savoy, Giacomo Filippo Penco, Carlo Bombrini, Raffaele Rubattino and Giovanni Ansaldo, leading representatives of the Genoese middle class and business community, set up the limited partnership (società in accomandita semplice) Gio. Ansaldo & C. which would put Genoa at the forefront of Italian industrial history.
Set up as a locomotive manufacturer, Ansaldo very soon became one of the key players in Italy’s industrial revolution. 1860 saw the first launch of steam powered warships made in Italy and this soon became the largest naval-mechanical industry in the Kingdom of Italy. With the creation of Ferrovie dello Stato, Ansaldo intensified the planning and manufacturing of locomotives in 1912, and with seven plants and over 16,000 staff, it was a complex on a European scale. After the end of the Great War the company, which had expanded further as a result of its arms production, was an industrial system with 80,000 employees and activities which ranged from mining to steelwork, to mechanical, electro-mechanical, naval and aeronautical manufacturing.
From the Thirties Ansaldo was part of the major programme to electrify the country, starting to manufacture power stations, alternators and transformers, which ran alongside the production of the first electrical locomotives and shipbuilding. 1931 saw the launch of the transatlantic legend Rex, for many years Italy’s largest and most modern merchant vessel. Its transfer to the control of the IRI in 1933 began a process of reorganisation which gave the group a new impetus to keep up with the major transformations taking place in the industrial world and stay in step with the need to rearm the country. In 1937 Ansaldo, committed to arms production, was declared “Industry of prominent national importance”. Ansaldo suffered enormous damage from the war and the German occupation: bombings, destruction and elimination of plants and machinery. After the war, Ansaldo was in a manufacturing and financial crisis, both because of the damage suffered and because of the need to transform its production for peacetime use. It therefore started an initial reorganisation, concentrating on shipbuilding, thermo-electrical plants, and railway production.

It was a historic automobile factory whose origins date back to 1906 when "Società Italiana Automobili Darracq" was established for the production of low-cost cars in the factory in Milan's Portello area. It was soon taken over by an Italian group formed mostly by car enthusiasts with the new name Alfa - Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili. The company debuted right away in motor racing, participating in the Targa Florio, and in 1915 it passed into the hands of Nicola Romeo, a Neapolitan engineer with great ambitions and the owner of several factories. Alfa merged with the "Accomandita Ing. Romeo e Co.", which was dedicated primarily to the production of war materials. In 1918 it was renamed "Società Anonima Ing. Nicola Romeo e Co.” and at the same time it absorbed Officine Meccaniche of Saronno, Officine Meccaniche Tabanelli of Rome and Officine Ferroviarie Meridionali of Naples. The intention of Mr. Romeo was that the new company diversify beyond cars, into other areas, especially "in internal combustion engines for any application; airplanes, locomotives and other rolling stock in general". Meanwhile, car racing became more and more important for Alfa Romeo: Enzo Ferrari debuted at the wheel of an Alfa in 1920. In the double role of pilot and consultant, he contributed greatly to the Alfa myth thanks to the successes achieved in competitions. In 1929 he founded the Scuderia Ferrari, maintaining close ties with Alfa and working alongside drivers like Nuvolari, Ascari and Campari. In 1933 Alfa Romeo merged into IRI, which started a major restructuring to make the company competitive with other automakers. As World War II approached, Alfa Romeo's production was oriented towards the assembly of aircraft and truck engines, which would be more useful to Italy in the event of an armed conflict. But the end of World War II left the company in a very critical condition, both for the damage suffered by the plants and for the need to convert from war to civilian production.  Having abandoned the production of aircraft engines, Alfa Romeo resumed a modest automotive business, but the real recovery would only come in the Fifties, with the advent of mass motorization.