"G.B. Pirelli & Co." was established as a limited partnership in Milan on 28 January 1872, set up to produce objects in rubber. It was Italy's first business in this industry.
In 1879, G.B. Pirelli & C started producing the connectors and cables used to carry electricity and communications. It very quickly grew to become a world-class name in the laying of submarine communication cables.
In 1890, the company expanded its existing plants in Porta Nuova and Ponte Seveso and added a new plot of land in Milan. This area was to become the site of the new facility for the production of velocipedes "tyres" which were to replace the full rubber wheels.
The group opened its first foreign plant in Spain in 1902, launching Pirelli's international expansion: this was followed by plants in Southampton, UK (1913), Buenos Aires (Merlo), Argentina (1917), Manresa, Spain (1924) and Burton on Trent, UK (1928).
1907 brought Pirelli's first international sporting triumph when Prince Scipione Borghese won the Peking-Paris motor race with Pirelli tyres. This marked the beginning of a long tradition of sporting triumphs on two and four wheels, carried on by racing drivers of the calibre of Nuvolari, Ascari and Fangio.
The elongated P was introduced in 1908 and has been the group's logo ever since. The idea emerged in New York when Pirelli's US representative needed a distinctive sign that would set Pirelli products apart from those of its competitors. Giovanni Battista Pirelli's sons, Piero and Alberto, called on to take up the reins of the company, along with their father, in 1904, used to sign their names with an elongated P and therefore inspired the graphic project. The Pirelli brand is now one of the most recognized across the globe.
In 1922, the Pirelli & C joint stock company was listed on the Milan Stock Exchange and on the New York exchange in 1929, making it the first Italian business to float in the US. In the same year, the company built its first plant in Brazil: this marked the start of Pirelli's expansion in a country which was key to the group's operations and where it now has four manufacturing facilities.
In 1924, Pirelli patented a number of innovative technological developments in the cable sector: since then, almost all high-voltage power lines have been made with Pirelli technology.
Company founder, Giovanni Battista Pirelli, died in 1932. In the war years, the group's facilities in Milan were seriously damaged. Once the conflict was over, in 1946, after a year of Allied military government, sons Piero and Alberto Pirelli resumed their leadership of the company.
1948 saw the launch of "Rivista Pirelli", a benchmark in corporate communication for the wider public, aiming to conflate a culture of technology with the humanities. Over its thirty-year history, the magazine has hosted leading exponents of the literary, graphic and art worlds. Pirelli's singular flair for communication also emerged in this period, with contributions from distinguished artists and designers, including, amongst others, Mulas, Mendini and Guttuso.
The Cinturato tyre was introduced in 1953, marking the debut of Pirelli radial technology.
Piero Pirelli died on 7 August 1956. Alberto took up the office of company president. The new executive headquarters, the Gio Ponti tower, were opened in Milan, opposite the central station, four years later. The building continues to be a symbol for the entire city.
The Pirelli Calendar was introduced in 1964, the first edition curated by Robert Freeman, the photographer the Beatles chose for their magical mystery tour. It was an instant success and, over the years, The Cal™ has earned cult status.
Alberto Pirelli was named honorary president in 1965, at the age of 83. He handed over the office of executive president to his son Leopoldo, who remained at the helm of the company for more than 25 years.
Pirelli and Dunlop merged their respective industrial operations in the 1970s, taking cross-shareholdings: these were the years of the great technological leap forward which saw the launch of Cinturato P7, P6 and P8. Pirelli continued to expand through the 1980s, acquiring the specialist German motorcycle tyre manufacturer, Metzeler, still a key brand for the group.
Marco Tronchetti Provera, who had originally joined the group in 1986 as a general partner, became CEO in 1992. After Pirelli lost its bid to acquire Continental, Tronchetti Provera set about restructuring the company and relaunching it internationally by introducing new technologies and embracing emerging markets like the Far East and Africa.
In 2000, Pirelli sold its terrestrial fibre optic cables business to Cisco and its optical components operations to Corning, for 5 billion euro. It invested - through Olimpia -part of the liquidity generated to become a majority shareholder in Telecom Italia in 2001, maintaining this position until 2007.
In 2005, Pirelli sold its Cables, Energy Systems and Telecommunications assets to Goldman Sachs and the resultant company was named Prysmian. In the same year, 2005, Pirelli opened its first tyre production plant in Shandong province, China. This was the beginning of the group's production complex in the country.
In 2006, Pirelli chose Slatina for its first tyre production plant in Romania, extending the facility in 2011.
Plans to build an industrial complex in Settimo Torinese got underway in 2008 when two plants were joined together to form the group's most technologically advanced site.
In 2010, Pirelli completed its conversion to a pure tyre company by selling Pirelli Broadband Solutions and spinning off the real estate assets of Pirelli Re. Fondazione Pirelli was established in the same year to safeguard and celebrate the company's heritage and to promote business culture as an integral part of Italy's national cultural assets.
In June 2010, after a 19-year hiatus, Pirelli returned to Formula 1™ racing and has been the single-tyre supplier since 2011. Pirelli is also the single-tyre supplier of the World Superbike Championships and of prestigious single-brand races like the Ferrari Challenge, the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo and the Maserati Cup. Pirelli tyres are used in a total 300 different championships.
Pirelli extended its manufacturing presence in Russia in 2011 by way of a joint venture with Rostec, and strengthened its presence in Argentina by extending the Merlo facility.
In 2012, Pirelli signed an agreement with Astra OtoParts to build a motorbike tyre plant in Indonesia. The facility was opened in 2015. In the same year, 2012, the group's first plant in Mexico was opened, in Silao, focusing on the production of Premium tyres for use across the NAFTA area.
In 2014, Pirelli sold its steelcord assets to Bekaert, a technology leader in steel wire transformation and coatings.
Marco Polo Industrial Holding – a Russian company, Pirelli majority shareholder since 2014 and indirectly controlled by CNRC while Camfin and LTI hold minority stakes - launched a takeover bid for Pirelli in 2015. By the end, it owned all of Pirelli's ordinary share capital. On 6 November, Pirelli's ordinary shares were delisted.
In February 2016, any savings shares still in circulation were converted into special shares without voting rights and withdrawn from sale on 25 February. This completed Pirelli's delisting.
It was announced in April 2016 that a second plant would be added to the Puerto Interior site in Silao, in Guanajuato state, Mexico. Investments of 200 million dollars are planned for the next three-year period.