The firm was founded by Ernesto Breda in Milan in 1886. It originally manufactured locomotives and other railway machinery, but later branched out into armaments and aircraft. Occasionally, not continuously, the company also built trolleybuses. In 1935, it acquired the railway division of Officine Ferroviarie Meridionali and, soon afterwards, the aircraft division of the same company.
In 1962, Breda was nationalised as part of EFIM, but was liquidated in the 1990s. The train and tram manufacturing division fused with Ansaldo to form AnsaldoBreda, the armaments division became an independent entity as Breda Meccanica Bresciana, as did the research division as Istituto Scientifico Breda.
The production of trolleybuses was a small part of Breda's output, carried out through its subsidiary Breda Costruzioni Ferroviarie (it), and was not under way continuously. Between 1936 and 1940, the company built a total of 28 trolleybuses, most for the Rome system but including six for Genoa. At various times between 1938 and 1956, more trolleybuses were built, but totalling only 16. Production resumed in 1988. Almost all of Breda's customers for trolleybuses were Italian trolleybus systems, but a notable exception was an order of 236 dual-mode buses that Breda built for the Seattle system between 1988 and 1991.