By Gijsbert-Paul Berk
From the moment Giovanni Agnelli (1866 –1945) and his business associates founded the company in 1899, it grew within a few decades to be one of the leading industries in Italy. It even had its own branches in the USA and Russia. In 1916 Fiat began building a completely new car factory at the outskirts of Turin. When it was completed in 1922, the Lingotto plant was the largest and most modern in Europe. Its assembly lines were spread over five floors and the finished cars were driven on a test track constructed on the roof of the entire building.
During WWI Fiat produced weapons, aircraft and vehicles for the allied armies and in the postwar period, Italy was confronted with serious social unrest. Fiat also suffered, as workers of the Italian Socialist Party briefly occupied its factories. However, by 1923 Fiat was again showing signs of healthy growth on both the national and international markets.