Vincenzo Stefano Breda (1825–1903)

Breda was among the most important engineers and entrepreneurs of nineteenth-century Italy. He was born in 1825 at Limena, close to the ancient city of Padua. He graduated in mathematical sciences at the University of Padua and fought in the first Italian war of independence in 1848. He took a job with the construction company Talachini and at the age of only 24 he designed and oversaw the construction of parts of the railway line from Venice through Padua to Milan.

In 1854, Breda began his own railway construction business, the Società per le strade ferrate dell'Italia centrale (the Central Italian Railway Company), winning contracts for several important railways in Italy. In 1872 he became president of the new Società veneta per imprese e costruzioni pubbliche (the Venetian Company for Public Enterprises and Construction). This company was responsible for new water supply systems for Venice and Naples, further railway and tramway projects and important public buildings, including the Ministry of Finance in Rome. It also had interests in banks, gas supply, the operation of railways and the expansion of the ports of Genoa and Palermo.

By 1881 Breda had acquired the principal share in an iron foundry at Terni in Umbria, which supplied cast iron pipes for his water-supply projects. In 1884, he was supported by the Italian government to launch a new company with the Belgian entrepreneur Cassian Bon to make steel at Terni. By the 1890s the steelworks produced around two-thirds of Italian steel and employed 3,000 workers. Breda developed further interests in building railway rolling stock. He helped his cousin Ernesto Breda to develop a mechanical engineering company in Milan that became a major producer of railway equipment, armaments and later trolleybuses and aircraft.

Breda entered politics in 1866 and was elected to the Italian parliament as a deputy and then a senator, which he remained until the end of his life. His philanthropic activities included establishing a kindergarten and a hospice at Padua and giving a hospital train to the Italian army. He was passionate about horse racing and built a racecourse next to his home, Villa Breda at Ponte di Brenta, Padua. The racecourse was completed in 1901, two years before his death. He is commemorated in the name of the racecourse (L’ippodromo Vincenzo Stefano Breda), Villa Breda, the Breda Foundation and the Via Stefano Breda in central Padua.