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Country Italy

Italy’s lack of natural resources and long history of fragmentation were its greatest obstacles on the road to industrialisation. The disparity between North and South only became acute as a result of unwise political and economic decisions in the 19th century: Naples, for instance, was still one of ... more


Italy’s lack of natural resources and long history of fragmentation were its greatest obstacles on the road to industrialisation. The disparity between North and South only became acute as a result of unwise political and economic decisions in the 19th century: Naples, for instance, was still one of Europe’s leading manufacturing cities in the 18th century.

Italy’s history was not lacking in economic innovations: in the Middle Ages, Italy was Europe’s leader in paper manufacturing; quasi-industrial forms of production emerged in the textile sector early on; and the powerful naval city of Venice, whose arsenals at times employed over ten thousand workers, began standardising components – the key prerequisite for mass production – for ship construction in the 14th century. But it was the modernisation of banking, which took place as a consequence of the thriving city-states of the Renaissance, that had the greatest impact.

However, this dynamism had largely run its course by the Industrial Age. A large-scale cotton industry developed around 1840, particularly in and around Milan and in the Piedmont region. Silk working, for centuries an Italian tradition, become concentrated in the regions of the North. However, the productivity of the spinning works lagged dramatically behind that of the British industry. Later, a major industrial zone evolved when the first tentative attempts at machine tool manufacturing emerged in the Milan-Turin-Genoa triangle. Around 1850, however, Naples remained the great exception to the North-South disparity. This city was home to shipyards and iron works, machine shops and vehicle makers. As a result,, Italy’s first railway was laid from Naples to the nearby Portici industrial region in 1839.

The modest industrial upswing continued after national unification in 1861, but the new national currency, the lira, crippled the economically weaker South: exports declined, factories were forced to close. A severe agricultural crisis that broke out at the beginning of the 1880s caused the situation to worsen dramatically. While agriculture in Lombardy, Piedmont and, to an extent, in the Emilia Romagna region had been modernised, the great landowners of the Mezzogiorno still adhered to the production methods of the past. Consequently, the agricultural regions of the South were unable to compete with cheap grain imported from the USA, grain production collapsed and more and more people were forced to emigrate.

Additionally, industrial development was driven mainly by the state, as there was little enthusiasm for private investment and capital was scarce. The governments in turn bought the consent of the elite to modernization programmes by leaving the anachronistic land ownership structures in the South intact. Driven by nationalistic motivations, they channelled funding primarily toward developing heavy industry. The result was a disastrous and enduring alliance between the political and industrial elite. Stefano Breda, for instance, built the steel works in Terni, Umbria, from which the government ordered warships, and also acquired control of the large shipyards in Genoa and Livorno. The Pirelli rubber plant was founded in Milan around this time as well, and food manufacturer Círio opened its first factory, for canned goods, in Turin.

The Industrial Revolution swept the northern half of Italy between 1897 and 1913. In 1899, Giovanni Agnelli founded the Fiat works in Turin. Steel plants were built in Piombino and on Elba; the steel barons launched the powerful Ilva group in Genoa, which opened a plant near Naples in 1908. The North also benefitted from the hydroelectric potential of the Alps: the Edison Company built the largest hydroelectric plant in Europe on the Adda river near Paderno. Machine tool companies and cement works emerged, and the electrical and chemical industries also benefitted from this new energy source. Electricity was also produced geothermally starting in 1916. The Milan-Turin-Genoa triangle boomed – but no more than half of Italy was industrialized by the start of World War One.


ERIH Anchor Points

Bologna | Italy

They represented the acme of European ...

Museum of Industrial Heritage
Museo del Patrimonio Industriale
Fornace Galotti Via della Beverara 123
40131 Bologna, Italy

Carbonia | Italy

Carbone, the Italian word for coal has given ...

Italian Centre for Coal Mining Culture at Geological Mining Park of Sardinia
Centro Italiano della Cultura del Carbone
Grande Miniera di Serbariu
09013 Carbonia, Italy

Cedegolo | Italy

How does a drop of water transform into ...

Museum of Hydroelectric Energy
Museo dell'energia idroelettrica
Via Roma 48
25051 Cedegolo, Italy

Guspini | Italy

The Anglosardo gallery in Montevecchio on the ...

The Mines of Montevecchio at Geological Mining Park of Sardinia
Miniera di Montevecchio
Piazza Rotundi
09030 Guspini, Italy

Malnisio di Montereale Valcellina | Italy

Without the water pipes climbing the steep ...

"Antonio Pitter" Power Plant Museum
Museo dell'ex Centrale Idroelettrica "Antonio Pitter"
Via Volta 27
33086 Malnisio di Montereale Valcellina, Italy

Monfalcone | Italy

You want to know how industrialisation welds a ...

MuCa - Museum of Shipbuilding Industry
MuCa - Museo della Cantieristica
Via del Mercato, 3
34074 Monfalcone, Italy

Prato | Italy

In the centre of Prato there can be found an ...

Campolmi Factory | Lazzerini Library | Textile Museum
Istituto culturale e di documentazione Lazzerini Via Puccetti, 3 59100 Prato Telephone +39 (0) 574 - 1837800
Museo del Tessuto Via Santa Chiara 24
59100 Prato, Italy

Pratovecchio Stia (Arezzo) | Italy

The elongated stone buildings with their ...

Museum of Wool Art
Museo dell’Arte della Lana Fondazione Luigi e Simonetta Lambard
Via Giovanni Santori 2
52017 Pratovecchio Stia, Italy

Schiavon | Italy

A dozen neatly arranged copper cauldrons, ...

Poli Distillery – Poli Grappa Museum
Poli Distillerie – Poli Museo della Grappa
Via G. Marconi 46
36060 Schiavon, Italy

Member Sites ERIH Association

Abbadia San Salvatore | Italy

Abbadia San Salvatore is a town of about 7,000 ...

Abbadia San Salvatore Mining Museum
Parco Museo Minerario
Via Suor Gemma, 5
53021 Abbadia San Salvatore, Italy

Brescia | Italy

The Museum of Iron was opened in 1984, when the ...

Museum of Iron
musil - Museo del ferro
Via del Manestro 117
25137 Brescia, Italy

Capriate San Gervasio (BG) | Italy

Crespi d’Adda is a community where textiles ...

Crespi d’Adda World Heritage Site
Crespi D’Adda, patrimonio dell’Umanità UNESCO
Corso Manzoni 18
24042 Capriate San Gervasio, Italy

Castellanza | Italy

Cotonificio Cantoni is a cotton mill founded in ...

Cantoni Cotton Mill - LIUC University
Università Cattaneo – LIUC (Cotonificio Cantoni)
Corso Giacomo Matteotti, 22
21053 Castellanza, Italy

Dalmine (BG) | Italy

The Dalmine Foundation emerged in 1999, on the ...

Fondazione Dalmine
Piazza Caduti del 6 luglio 1944, n.1
24044 Dalmine, Italy

Follonica | Italy

Follonica is a town on the Tuscan coast, where ...

MAGMA Museum of Cast Iron Arts in MAremma
MAGMA Museo delle Arti in Ghisa della MAremma
Comprensorio Ilva
58022 Follonica, Italy

Genova | Italy

inGE is devoted to encourage the awareness and ...

inGE Association for the Promotion and Diffusion of the Industrial Heritage and Culture of Genoa and Liguria
inGE Associazione per la Promozione e la Diffusione della Cultura e del Patrimonio Industriale a Genova e in Liguria
c/o Studio Melis Piazza della Vittoria 9/6
16121 Genova, Italy

Iglesias | Italy

The island of Sardinia is rich in mineral ...

Geomineral, Historical and Environmental Park of Sardinia
Parco Geominerario Storico e Ambientale della Sardegna
Via Monteverdi 16
09016 Iglesias, Italy

Milan | Italy

Fondazione AEM was established in 2007 in order ...

Casa dell’Energia e dell’Ambiente – Fondazione AEM-Gruppo A2A
Piazza Po, 3
20144 Milan, Italy

Mongiana | Italy

In Mongiana, an ironworks with a blast furnace ...

MuFar. Royal Bourbon Weapons Factory Museum
MuFar Museo Fabbrica d’Armi Reali Ferriere Borboniche
Via Madonnella 12
89823 Mongiana, Italy

Pray | Italy

Zignone Brothers wool mill – today better known ...

Factory of the Wheel
Fabbrica della ruota
Regione Vallefredda, 1
13867 Pray, Italy

Reggio Emilia | Italy

The Historical Archive of Officine Reggiane ...

Officine Reggiane Historical Archive
Archivio Storico Officine Reggiane
Via Dante Alighieri 11
42121 Reggio Emilia, Italy

Rossano | Italy

Amarelli family represents a story in the ...

"Giorgio Amarelli" Licorice Museum
"Giorgio Amarelli" Museo della Liquirizia
Contrada Amarelli Strada Statale 106
87067 Rossano, Italy

Ruda | Italy

The Chiozza starch factory is a real unique ...

Chiozza Starch Factory
Amederia Chiozza
Via Luigi Pasteur
33050 Ruda, Italy

Sesto San Giovanni | Italy

Fondazione ISEC was born in 1973 with the aim ...

Fondazione ISEC
Largo La Marmora 17
20099 Sesto San Giovanni, Italy

Settimo Torinese | Italy

The Freidano Ecomuseum takes its name from the ...

Freidano Ecomuseum
Ecomuseo del Freidano
Via Ariosto 36-bis
10036 Settimo Torinese, Italy

Tivoli | Italy

The Sanctuary of Hercules the Victor is a ...

Sanctuary of Hercules Victor
Santuario di Ercole Vincitore
Via degli Stabilimenti 5
00019 Tivoli, Italy


Abbadia Lariana | Italy

On the bank of Lake Como, the town of Abbadia ...

Monti Silk Factory Civic Museum
Civico Museo Setificio Monti
Via Nazionale, 93
23821 Abbadia Lariana, Italy

Acquasanta | Italy

The museum of paper is in a working paper mill ...

Museum of Paper
Museo della Carta
Via Acquasanta, 251
16010 Acquasanta, Italy

Adegliacco | Italy

Immaginario Scientifico from Trieste has ...

Dida Centre Immaginario Didattico at Adegliacco Old Watermill
Mulino de Adegliacco - Immaginario Didattico
Via del Molini 32
33010 Adegliacco, Italy

Amalfi | Italy

Amalfi is an ancient town of arcaded houses ...

Paper Museum
Museo Della Carta
Via delle Cartiere
Amalfi, Italy

Arese | Italy

The principal factory of the Alfa Romeo ...

Alfa Romeo Museum
La Macchina del Tempo Museo Storico Alfa Romeo
Viale Alfa Romeo
20020 Arese, Italy

Argenta | Italy

The ecomuseum at Argenta is a federation of ...

Ecomuseum of Argenta
Casino de Campotto
via Cadinale-Luc
Argenta, Italy