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History of Volkswagen

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VW Beetle
One of the earliest models of the Volkswagen Beetle, developed under British occupation in post-war Germany
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The history of Volkswagen: How the

Volkswagen, a German engineering company, is one of the most celebrated and respected automobile manufactures today.  However the early history of classic Volkswagen has unlikely roots tangled in the political and military turmoil of Nazi Germany, prior to World War II.

The history of Volkswagen began in the early 1930’s, when Adolf Hitler aspired to develop an affordable car that the average German citizen could afford.  Hitler realized that the production of such a car would be a strong political move to garner the public support that he desperately needed for his military pursuits. 

In 1933, Hitler met with Ferdinand Porsche to discuss the development of such a car.  Ferdinand Porsche had been chief designer for Daimler-Benz, Auto-Union, and had gone on to establish his own engineering consultation firm.  Hitler discussed with Porsche the concept of a car that could carry five people, cruise up to 65 mph on 33 mpg, and cost only 1000 Reich Mark.  Ferdinand Porsche had already been working on a similar automobile design concept.  Thus, Hitler commissioned Porsche to produce the “Volkswagen” which translates into German as the “people’s car.”





Hitler used Nazi financing for the Volkswagen project, and took over the private estate of Earl Von Schulenberg, in Wolfsburg, Germany, in order to build the Volkswagen factory.  Under the direction of the Nazi regime, Ferdinand Porsche produced 50 Volkswagen prototypes between 1935 and 1937.

However, nearly as soon as production has started in the new Volkswagen Factory, World War II began.  Production of the Volkswagen was halted, and the factory was transformed into a production center for war related products.  A prime target for allied forces during the war, the Volkswagen factory was bombed, partially destroyed, and then taken over by the British Army. 

When World War II finally ended in 1945, Ferdinand Porsche was arrested as a war criminal and was sent to a detention camp for several years.  The British government remained in control of the Wolfsburg Volkswagen Factory and the state ownership of the Volkswagen brand was transferred to a British officer, Major Ivan Hirst. 

It was only after the war that the Volkswagen truly became the “Peoples Car”.  This "new beginning" for the history of Volkswagen, occured as the Volkswagen Beetle, quite literally rose from the ashes of the bombed out Wolfsburg factory, under the guidance of Major Ivan Hirst.  Hirst even secured the first order, from the British Government, for the production of 20,000 Volkswagen cars.  These cars were provided to the British forces who remained to occupy the region after the war as a part of the normalization plans for post-war Germany. 

The Beetle was an instant success in Germany, Europe, Britain, America and virtually every other country in the world. The model evolved through various face lifts and running gear changes and provided a platform for more contemporary models.

By 1972, the Wolfsburg factory had produced over fifteen million Volkswagen Beetles.  The Beetle went on to be crowned as the best selling car of all time, even surpassing the production record set by Ford’s Model T. 

Despite Volkswagen’s turbulent past, and early associations with the Nazi Regime, the company has evolved to a higher standard in the contemporary global market.  Rather than reflect the Nazi ideal that Hitler would have wished, the Volkswagen name has come to represent quality, durability, reliability.  Ultimately, the history of Volkswagen has progressed, and today volkswagen is honored as “people’s car” – not only for the German people, but for people the world over. 


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