Learn how BMW became the global empire that it is today with a brief glimpse to its humble beginnings. The following snapshot of BMW’s history shows the timeline of a long journey. We go as far back as the early 1900s, with the impending WWI in the backdrop.
Karl Friedrich Rapp founded Rapp-Motorenwerke GmbH, a German company that manufactured aircraft engines. He was one of the successful aircraft engine producers at the time. With war looming in the foreground, his factory’s expertise was in high demand. Unfortunately, his engines suffered from a design flaw. This loophole was wide enough for his competitors to take advantage of and take him out of the competition.
World War I
Three years after this major setback, he got a new contract to manufacture 600 aircraft engines for the Prussian army. The contract kept the Rapp-Motorenwerke afloat, but barely so. It prevented Rapp’s company from totally sinking to the bottom and bought him some time to recover.
Bold Baby Steps
Rapp took a bold step and signed a partnership agreement with Fran-Josef Popp and Camillo Castiglioni. The deal gave birth to the company they formed and called it Bayerische Flugzeug-Werke (BFW). Not long after, BFW became Bayerische Motoren Werke or Bavarian Motor Works (BMW) that we know today.
Amid global rebuilding efforts, BMW relocated its facility to Oberwiesenfeld, Munich, which would later become the BMW headquarters and remain so to this day.
Leaps of Faith
BMW took a landmark step when it decided to start manufacturing motorcycles for the very first time. It was a significant transition for two reasons. First, it was a massive shift from aviation to the motorcycle industry. Second, they were now producing a complete vehicle while before they were only making engines.
They were able to pull through the birth pains of their new venture and came out with the R32. The design of R32 has been repeatedly referred to as an engineering feat and art masterpiece in one. The concept behind its design was said to be exceedingly ahead of its time that its technology remains to be relevant to modern-day motorcycles.
The original BMW logo came out in 1927, with a design that combined Rapp Motorenwerke’s logo and the Bavarian flag’s colours. A quick look today at that all-too-familiar logo of the current BMW will show that it has not changed much through the decades.
Dixi - the First BMW
It was not until 1928 when BMW started manufacturing automobiles. They acquired the Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach, which was then the largest automobile manufacturing facility in Germany. With this acquisition also came the licence to produce the German version of the British Austin 7, which they called the BMW Dixi.
The First True BMW
The idea of using Austin 7’s design created quite a stir, but the uproar soon settled down. The Dixi went through upgrades and was called BMW 3/15 DA-2. This was the precursor of what was to be BMW’s first independently-designed automobile–the BMW 3/20. The completion of the first true BMW car marked the year when BMW would become a name to reckon with in the automobile manufacturing industry - not only in Germany or Europe but around the world.
World War II
The Second World War (WWII) gravely affected BMW. The German government took over the operation of the plant and used it to manufacture war materials, motorcycles, and aircraft.
Large quantities of war materials had to be produced and shipped to the war front. With a drained labour market, it became impossible for BMW to meet the demands imposed upon it. It had to recruit workers from foreign countries, but even these efforts were not enough. In 1942, the company had to use prisoners of war (POW) from Nazi camps and forced labourers. It was a terrible time for BMW.
The end of WWII was a relief for BMW. The relief was short-lived, however, because they had yet to be on their heels again. The company had to suffer from the consequences of their association with the Nazis. BMW’s facilities were destroyed by the allied forces because of the role they played during the war.
Surviving Two Wars
With its factory in ruins and no ability to return to manufacturing automobiles at that time, BMW showed once more its resilience and relevance to society. To keep their head above the water, they started manufacturing pans, pots and other kitchen utensils. 'With every kitchen in shambles, certainly pots and pans would have a market' —BMW must have thought. The ability of BMW to see through things during very humbling and pressing situations kept it alive.
BMW resumed producing motorcycles. This served as a breather prior to their major production efforts in the years to come.
In 1951, BMW made its major comeback with the introduction of the luxurious 501 sedan. It didn’t become an instant success as hoped for, but it managed to put BMW back to its rightful place in the automobile industry. The BMW 501 sedan was a vehicle with a large interior that could accommodate up to six passengers comfortably, but it didn’t sell very well. A few more cars followed, but soon enough, the BMW began to lose money and got itself deep in debt.
In 1959, Daimler-Benz gave BMW an enticing offer to buy the company. BMW, however, turned down the offer. This spirit of pride and resilience proved to the world that BMW had no intention of losing without a fight. Just when things were about to go dim for Rapp and company, the German government gave them a cheque as compensation for the damages caused by the war. That was a fine time to restructure, rebuild, and regain BMW’s lost glory.
The Big Boom
BMW scaled to the forefront in the 60s and 70s. It began to widen its reach, taking on bigger challenges. They did this with the help of the BMW Credit, a financial subsidiary, which was founded in 1971. The primary objective of this organisation was to fuel the growth and development of dealership companies in the early stages of infancy all over the world.
The big boom came in 1972 when BMW began massively expanding to other countries and continents. The plant in Rosslyn, South Africa was one of them. This South African company produces over 53,000 automobiles a year.
BMW opened its first-ever manufacturing plant in the United States. Today, the BMW plant in South Carolina is unsurpassed in its capacity to produce 1,900 automobiles a day.
Sweeping the World
Aside from South Africa and the United States, the carmaker giant has built facilities in almost all the major countries around the world—including its plants in the United Kingdom, Brazil, China, Hungary, India, and the latest one in Mexico. One thing is certain—we have yet to hear the last of this string of production plants to BMW’s name.
For a company that has endured economic and political upheavals, BMW’s success can be seen as its rise from the ashes. The next time you look at that iconic BMW blue-and-white logo, don’t forget that it does not merely symbolize opulence—it stands for Bavarian pride and resilience.
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