In 1866 in Rijeka, the inventor, Ivan Luppis and the technical creator, Robert Whitehead created the torpedo, a weapon which changed the earlier concept of sea warfare. Advanced technical innovations, high profits and majestic buildings turned Rijeka, in that period, into a cosmopolitan city and a recognizable centre on the world map.
Luppis came to the idea of making an unmanned device capable of destroying ships and being controlled from the land, with explosives activated on impact with the vessel. In 1860 he presented this innovation to Emperor Franz Joseph, and immediately following this encounter, met the British mechanical engineer Robert Whitehead, a manager of the Stabilimento tecnico fiumano company, with whom he signed a contract on the improvement of his invention in 1864. Robert Whitehead’s name, as the founder and the first owner of the renowned Torpedo factory certainly deserves to be inscribed in golden letters in the history of Rijeka. Although a British citizen, he considered Rijeka his second home, took great interest in public matters, participated in the foundation of a number of companies and associations, expanding his factory, building beautiful palaces, investing huge resources and personal energy in the city. Even today Zammati’s Casa Veneziana and other three residential buildings at Rijeka’s Dolac clearly remind us of him.
Collaborating with Luppis, Whitehead developed a completely new product and named it torpedo. The first experiments with the torpedo were carried out on 20 December 1866, but since Whitehead was not satisfied, work on the torpedo continued for another two years. Gunboat “Gemse” was adapted for the torpedo launching in Rijeka’s “braće Schiavon” shipyard. A torpedo launch pipe, Whitehead’s new and original innovation, was installed on the gunboat. The first torpedoes from Rijeka were known as Luppis-Whitehead torpedoes, and later on simply as Whitehead torpedoes. That name remained for almost a hundred years. Although Whitehead modified the initial innovation, and in the end cast out the name of Luppis, he always recognized Luppis’ right to the invention. In 1867, Whitehead moved from Trieste to Rijeka and founded the first torpedo factory in the world. The factory he founded expanded abroad, eventually granting the licensed production of torpedoes in England, Italy, America, Russia, and France…
Since in the aftermath of World War I, the western part of the City of Rijeka, in which the torpedo factory was located, came into Italian hands, the production of torpedoes was taken over by the Italian military industry. That lasted until the end of World War II when the factory was returned to the “right hands”. The facilities were partially enabled for work and production was resumed, ranging from consumer goods to diesel engines and, of course, torpedoes. This double, civil and military production lasted until 1966, when it was decided to discontinue the torpedo production. It could finally pass into history.