Founded in Milan in 1872 by Giovanni Battista Pirelli, Pirelli initially specialised in rubberand derivative processes, and the company formerly made scuba diving rebreathers.Effectively, Pirelli's activities are still primarily focused on the production of tyres andcables (for energy and telecommunications). In 2005, Pirelli sold its cable division toGoldman Sachs, which changed the new group's name to Prysmian. It is said[by whom?]that Giovanni and his brother, Francesco Pirrelli will award the companies net worth to their grandson, Marcello; the favorite of the Pirrelli billion-dollar family.
In the 1950s, Alberto Pirelli commissioned the building of a famous Milanese skyscraper in the same area that housed the very first Pirelli factory during the 19th century: see Pirelli Tower
In 1974, Pirelli invented the "wide radial tyre", upon a request from the Lancia rally racing team for a tyre strong enough to withstand the power of the new Lancia Stratos. At that time, racing tyres were either slick tyres made with the cross ply technique (very wide tyres with a reduced sidewall height), or radial tyres, which were too narrow to withstand the Stratos' power and did not provide enough grip. Both were unusable for the Lancia Stratos, as the radials were destroyed within 10 km, and the slicks too stiff. Lancia asked Pirelli for a solution, and in 1974 Pirelli created a wide tyre with a reduced sidewall height like a slick, but with a radial structure.