The G.R.E.S. Império Serrano, nine-time winner of the official Carnaval contest of the city of Rio de Janeiro (1948-1951, 1955-1956, 1960, 1972, 1982), was founded in the Morro da Serrinha (Serrinha Hill), in the Madureira borough. Its history began with Francisco Zacarias de Oliveira, who lived in the Serrinha Hill. Extremely well connected with his community, he used to organize blocos that counted on the participation of the entire neighborhood, such as the Borboleta Amorosa, the Bloco da Lua, the Primeiro Nós, the Três Jacarés, and Baianinhos da Rua Operário.
In 1928, Alfredo Costa and his wife, D. Iaiá, moved to Serrinha Hill, bringing their bloco, the Cabelo de Mana, which animated the local Carnaval for two years. In the early '30s, Costa founded the Prazer da Serrinha samba school with composers Mano Eloy and Delfino (Costa's brother-in-law). The Prazer da Serrinha never won a Carnaval championship (excepted an unofficial contest of 1950), but was the only samba school that celebrated the jongo, a folkloric genre that still has its place in the Serrinha Hill while it is extinguishing/extinct in the other Carioca hills.
During the war years in the '40s, the Prazer da Serrinha followed the governmental prohibition and didn't parade during the Carnaval. In 1946, Costa, in one of his typical tyrannical actions, stopped the Prazer da Serrinha from performing "Conferência de São Francisco," by Silas de Oliveira/Mano Décio, during the Carnaval official parade. It was the first samba-enredo ever written. Instead, he chose in favor of his friend Albano's "Alto da Colina." He made the change right before the parade, in spite of the rehearsals during the whole preceding year. As a consequence, Sebastião de Oliveira (Molequinho) urged the other members of the samba school -- Silas de Oliveira, Mano Décio, Mestre Fuleiro (director of harmony), Antenor (the composer of the first samba of the new school), João Gradim, and others -- to form a dissident samba school. With the help and advice of the venerable Mano Eloy, the Império Serrano was founded in March 23, 1947.
The school's debut was in December 31 of that year, in a parade organized by the A Manhã newspaper at the Mauá Square. The first time the school entered the Carnaval contest, in 1948, they won, breaking Portela's seven-year hegemony. The Império introduced innovations in that first parade that remain canonical even now for all samba schools: all of its members paraded in fancy dresses and Fuleiro determined that the mestre-sala and the porta-bandeira stayed in the middle of the school parade, not in front of it, as it traditionally was. Also, the frying-pan, until then used only in the kitchen, became a musical instrument (João Paulino's contribution was vetoed by determination of the police in the mid-'50s). Disagreeing with the result of the contest, violent street fights marked the relations of Portela and Mangueira with Império, culminating with the abandon of the two samba schools of the Federação Brasileira das Escolas de Samba (Brazilian Federation of Samba Schools), which promoted the resurrection of the União Geral das Escolas de Samba (General Association of the Samba Schools). The beneficiary of that dissension, as the Federation held the only contest recognized officially by the Mayoralty, the Império won the championships of 1949, 1950, and 1951. The samba-enredo that won the contest of 1949, "Exaltação a Tiradentes" (Mano Décio da Viola/Penteado) was recorded as "Tiradentes" by Roberto Silva for the Carnaval of 1955 (with the unmotivated inclusion of another "author," Estanislau Silva). The song wasn't such a hit in that Carnaval, but it became historically important as the first samba-enredo ever recorded.
The ferocious rivalry between Portela and Império continued in the following years. In 1952, the contest was unified again, but was declared void due to a rainstorm that prejudiced Império's parade. Portela won in 1953 and in 1955, the Império won again, with "Exaltação a Caxias." Império also won in 1956 ("O Sonhador de Esmeraldas") and Portela won in 1957, 1958, and 1959.
In the '50s and '60s, the school's composers, especially Silas de Oliveira (author of 14 sambas-enredo presented by the school) contributed significantly to renovate the genre with their invention. Other expressive artists revealed by the Império were Mano Décio da Viola and Ivone Lara, the first woman to shine in the macho samba institution. The contest of 1960 was troubled by a diplomatic crisis that involved Brazil and Paraguay. What happened was that the Império worked during the entire year of 1959 on a plot (enredo) titled "Retirada da Laguna" ("The Retreat of Laguna"), depicting the inglorious episode of the war between Brazil and Paraguay (1864-1870). In that enredo, the Paraguayan president, Solano Lopez, a national hero in his country, was referred to as a "dictator." Considerable pressure from the Brazilian diplomatic service (by its turn pushed by the Paraguayan ambassador weeks before the contest) over the Tourism Department of the State of Rio de Janeiro ended up forcing the Império to change its plot. The new one dealt with the Latin American Fraternization (concordant with Brazilian president Juscelino Kubitschek's Pan-American Operation) and was entitled "Medalhas e Brasões" ("Medals and Coats of Arms"). The result of the parade only added to the polemics involved in that year's Carnaval. Portela won with the Salgueiro ending in second; it was then when, for the first time, it was put into practice a disposition of the statutes of the contest, ruling that the schools that spent more time on their parades than their allotted time would lose points in the general classification. As a result of this, Portela lost, falling to second position, and Salgueiro won. The results aroused from this (amplified by the intervention of the police) took many people to the hospital of the city. But in the next day, a conciliatory suggestion was unanimously adopted: Salgueiro, Portela, Mangueira, Unidos da Capela ,and Império Serrano were all considered champions. After such consuming happenings, the Império Serrano would have to endure a 12-year fast until winning another championship, which occurred in 1972 with "Alô! Alô! Taí Carmem Miranda." The victory, in spite of the weak samba-enredo, was more evidence that the samba wasn't the focus of the parade anymore, but the luxury allegories and their creators, the "carnavalescos" (in the specific case of the Império in that year, Fernando Pinto).
A new win would happen only in 1982 when the school had enormous success with the historical samba-enredo "Bum Bum Paticumbum Prugurundum" (Beto Sem Braço/Aluísio Machado). The critical plot dealt exactly with the crescent commercialism of the samba schools and of the Carnaval itself, arguing that the gigantic allegories were hiding the sambistas and alluding to the samba schools as "Superescolas de samba S.A." (Supersamba Schools Inc.).