Why is there a snake on the Alfa Romeo badge?

The company that became Alfa Romeo was founded as Società Anonima Italiana Darracq (SAID) in 1906 by the French automobile firm of Alexandre Darracq, with Italian investors. In late 1909, the Italian Darracq cars were selling slowly and the Italian partners of the company hired Giuseppe Merosi to design new cars.

On 24 June 1910, a new company was founded named A.L.F.A. (“[Società] Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili” = “Lombard Automobile Factory Company”), initially still in partnership with Darracq.  Two traditional symbols of Milan were chosen to make up the badge: the city’s red cross and the Visconti snake.  The crest of a man being consumed by a dragon is actually what’s known as a “Biscione”, an emblem of the House of Visconti, who controlled the city of Milan from the 13th to the 15th century.  Legend states that in Lake Gerundo, near Milan, an enormous snake lived and terrorizeed the inhabitants of the city by attacking and eating the children and polluting the water with its venom.  In a heroic effort, Ottone Visconti, the founder of the family, slayed the snake and adorned his coat of arms with is likeness as a symbol of triumph.

The cross and snake were set on a disc bearing the inscription ALFA MILANO around the edge, the two words separated by two knots, an emblem of the House of Savoy.  In August 1915, the company came under the direction of Neapolitan entrepreneur Nicola Romeo, and the badge was altered to read ALFA ROMEO MILANO.   In 1920, the name of the company was changed to Alfa Romeo.

In 1921 the company was nationalized and a laurel wreath was added in 1925 to commemorate victory in the first World Championship.  In 1933 the state ownership was reorganized under the banner of the Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale (IRI) by Benito Mussolini‘s government.  In 1946 a more Spartan badge had to be created in a single-color version (red) because the badge-producing machinery had been destroyed during WWII.  When Italy became a republic the Savoy-dynasty knots were replaced by two wavy lines. In 1950 the brand got all its colors back, though the laurel wreath was less prominent.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Alfa Romeo produced a number of sporty cars, and with the opening of the plant in Pomigliano d’Arco in 1972, the word MILANO and the wavy lines were removed from the badge.  Because the Italian government parent company, Finmeccanica, struggled to make a profit, it sold the marque to the Fiat Group in 1986.

In 2015 the brand trademark was changed once again.  The symbolic elements simplified, the separation between cross and snake removed. The snake itself was redesigned to give it greater prominence.

Sources – Fiat / Alfa Romeo Brand Guidelines and Wikipedia