12 March 2019

12 March

Gianni Agnelli - business giant

Head of Fiat more powerful than politicians

The businessman Gianni Agnelli, who controlled the Italian car giant Fiat for 40 years until his death in 2003, was born on this day in 1921 in Turin. Under his guidance, Fiat - Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino, founded by his grandfather, Giovanni Agnelli, in 1899 - became so huge in the 1990s that literally every other car on Italy's roads was produced in one of their factories. The company diversified into newspapers and publishing, insurance companies, food manufacture, engineering and construction with such success that at one time Agnelli controlled more than a quarter of the companies on the Milan stock exchange. With a personal fortune estimated at between $2 billion and $5 billion, he became one of the most influential figures in Italy, arguably more powerful than any politician.  Read more…


Gabriele D’Annunzio – writer and patriot

Military hero influenced Mussolini with his distinctive style

Poet, playwright and political leader Gabriele D’Annunzio was born on this day in 1863 in Pescara in Abruzzo. He is considered to be the leading writer in Italy of the late 19th and early 20th centuries as well as being a military hero and a political activist. Some of his ideas and actions were believed to have influenced Italian Fascism and the style of the dictator, Benito Mussolini. His first poetry was published when he was just 16 and the novels that made him famous came out in his twenties. His extravagant lifestyle once meant he had to flee to France because of his debts but he returned when Italy entered the First World War, lost an eye in combat while serving with the air force and in 1919 to popular acclaim took about 300 supporters to claim the port of Fiume - now in Croatia and which the Allies were proposing to incorporate into the new state of Yugoslavia - on behalf of Italy. Read more…


Pietro Andrea Mattioli – doctor

The first botanist to describe the tomato

Doctor and naturalist Pietro Andrea Mattioli was born on this day in 1501 in Siena. As the author of an illustrated work on botany, Mattioli provided the first documented example of an early variety of tomato that was being grown and eaten in Europe. He is also believed to have described the first case of cat allergy, when one of his patients was so sensitive to cats that if he went into a room where there was a cat he would react with agitation, sweating and pallor. After receiving his medical degree at the University of Padua in 1523, he practised his profession in Siena, Rome, Trento and Gorizia. Later, he became the personal physician to Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria, in Prague and to Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor, in Vienna. Read more…


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