I was one of the many naive individuals who thought that BMW began with cars. That myth was quickly laid to rest last week when I read an article about the beginnings of this superstar brand. With such an interesting start, I thought I should pass on the history.
Before we start, I have a little quiz for you… Do you know what BMW actually stands for? If you guessed Bayerische Motoren Werke or in English, Bavarian Motor Works, you’re correct!
Between 1913-1916, the skeleton of BMW is formed when Karl F. Rapp opens his doors as an aircraft engine manufacturer in Munich, Bavaria, Germany. He didn’t find success in this venture alone, however. After signing several contracts with a couple of countries to produce 25 large V12 aircraft engines, Rapp turned to neighbor Gustav Otto for help. Rapp’s engines were deemed unreliable and Otto had already proven himself as a success in the field. Rapp and Otto merged companies and “Bayerische Flugzeug-Werke” or BFW was created! Shortly thereafter, Franz-Joseph Popp of Austria came into the scene. He was an engineer and director of Rapp’s business. He was also responsible for changing the company name into Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH. The official birthday of BMW is March 7, 1916, but shortly after this date, the company almost lost it all. They needed financial help and turned to Camillo Castiglioni. Rapp was later ousted of his company and the others went on to run it without him, later convincing the government to buy engines from them.
In 1918 the IIIa engine powered a biplane to 5,000 meters altitude in just 29 minutes, creating a big demand for these superior engines. Around this time the name changed again to BMW AG- the AG now representing that the company was owned by shareholders and could be traded.
Amidst this success, the armistice was signed in 1919 and German military were prohibited from producing aircraft engines. In 1923, they shifted to motorcycle production followed by automobiles in 1928–29. The circular blue and white BMW logo or roundel evolved from the circular Rapp Motorenwerke company logo, from which the BMW company grew, combined with the blue and white colors of the flag of Bavaria. The logo has been portrayed as the movement of an aircraft propeller with the white blades cutting through a blue sky — first used in a BMW advertisement in 1929, twelve years after the roundel was created — but this is not the origin of the logo itself.
Now, with several more brands under their control, BMW owns a hefty portion of the moving world. Check out the production numbers from the graph below.
This is only a piece of their history- their story continues every day as they continue to evolve in style and production.