The purpose of the present paper is to review the origin and development of the epidemiology of mesothelioma in Italy, starting with the detection and investigation of the major outbreak of the disease observed in Casale Monferrato, Piedmont Region. Over the last four decades, mortality among the cohort of ex-Eternit workers has been measured at three points in time. More recently, population based case-control studies in the area of Casale Monferrato have provided new light on the dose-response curve of the relationship between asbestos exposure and mesotheliomas. The publication of the first Casale Monferrato study had a major impact in the country and contributed to the decision of the Italian Parliament to ban the use of asbestos. The experience of Casale Monferrato represents a lesson in several terms, from the epidemiological surveillance to the health care of the victims and the relationship between epidemiologists, victims, their relatives and residents in contaminated areas.