Alenia Aerospazio Remote Sensing Division started in 1986 the study of microwave radiometers under Italian Space Agency fundings, and since 1989 the definition and development of radiometric systems under European Space Agency (ESA) contracts. In particular the Multifrequency Imaging Microwave Radiometer (MIMR) and the ENVISAT Microwave Radiometer (MWR) were both developed by the European Industry, with Alenia Aerospazio as Prime Contractor. MWR is an instrument designed and developed as part of the Envisat-1 satellite scientific payload, with Alenia Spazio engaged in the phase C-D as instrument Prime Contractor, leading an industrial consortium of European and American companies. The Flight Model of the Instrument has been delivered to ESA at the end of July 1997, after completion of test and calibration activities. Given the MWR in-flight calibration concept, a specific pre-flight calibration and characterization activity was performed to define a radiometer mathematical model and a relevant ground characterization database including all model coefficients. The model and its database will be used by on-ground processing during instrument in-flight operation to retrieve the antenna-measured temperature. Standing its complexity and iterative measurement concept, the pre-flight characterization and calibration of the instrument is the key aspect of its development phase. Within this paper the key instrument design topics are summarized, and after a summary overview of the overall flight model qualification campaign, emphasis will be on the pre-flight calibration and characterization activities and radiometric performance achievements among several test phases.