By the end of the 19th century, most northern European countries had become industrial powers. Italy, however, with the exception of Milan and Turin, grew at a slower pace. This all began to change toward the end of the 19th Century, when the young Italian state launched a massive modernization campaign, financing the construction of new roads and railways in an effort to better connect its main urban centers. In 1926, the brothers Adriano and Marcello Ducati founded Societa Scientifica Tadiobrevetti Ducati, a company in Bologna specializing in the production of tubes, condensers and other radio components. By 1940, the company had specialized in the manufacture of electronic military equipment, making it a prime target for Allied bombing raids. The Ducati factory at Borgo Panigale was hit badly a number of times, but kept up production in spite of it all. About this time, Aldo Farinelli, a local lawyer, engineer and writer, began thinking about what Italy would be like after the war.
He realized that what Italians would need, after life got back to normal, was a viable means of personal transportation. Most Italians either walked, took what little public transportation there was, or better yet, rode bicycles. With this in mind, Farinelli began working with the small Torinese firm SIATA (Societa Italiana per Applicazioni Tecniche Auto-Aviatorie) toward developing a small engine that could be mounted on a bicycle. Gathering sufficient raw materials for the project, however, was risky, since diverting war-related commodities for private use was strictly forbidden by Mussolini and the occupying German forces. Nevertheless, Farinelli managed to put together his first prototype and have it running on the streets of Turin by Autumn 1944. The engine's short stubby exhaust produced a high-pitched yapping noise. This, and Farinelli's understandable affection for his pet project, inspired the name "Cucciolo" - or little puppy - for his new little motor. Weighing in at a little over 17 lbs., the mighty mite added little to the weight of the bike and got an amazing 180 miles per Imperial gallon (100km per liter).
There was no way to begin manufacturing the Cucciolo before the cease-fire, as Turin was heavily bombed in the Winter of 1944. But plans were made and, in the early Spring of 1945 when the Fascist Republic of the North fell, SIATA wasted no time. On July 26, barely one month after the official liberation of the country, they announced their intentions to offer the Cucciolo to the public. It was the first new automotive design to appear in postwar Europe. The first Cucciolos were available only as a motor to be attached to a normal bicycle. But some Italian businessmen bought the little engines in quantity and began building their own frames, thus offering for sale the first complete mini-motorcycles. By 1950, with 200,000 Cucciolos already sold, Ducati took the final step. They offered a complete motorcycle based on the successful little pullrod engine. The collaboration resulted in a well designed little 60 cc bike. This first Ducati motorcycle weighed 98 pounds and had a top speed of 40mph. It's 15 mm carburator got just under 200 mpg. In the 1950's, Ducati officially dropped the "Cucciolo" name, replacing it with "55M" or "65TL".
Source: Ducati.com Pics: http://bcsportbikes.com