Christina Drazenovic

The Volkswagon Beetle

Pre- World War II

There was a need for small, inexpensive, well-constructed cars. Before the 1930s, many attempts to create simple, affordable cars were met with failure. If the design of the car was simple, it cost too much for the average person’s annual minimum wage.

In 1923, the first serious attempt to create a car for the average German was introduced by Joseph Ganz. As editor of a popular car magazine, he used his platform to criticize old, unsafe cars and promote his plans. Ganz contacted Zündapp, Ardie, and DKW motorcycle companies to build a volks-wagon, or people’s car, prototype. His collaboration resulted in the Ardie-Ganz in 1930 and the Maikäfer (May beetle) in 1931. The news of his creations spread quickly.

Joseph Ganz in an Ardie-Ganz

A Maikäfer

At the same time Ganz was creating his prototypes, Zündapp, due to failed attempts of their own, contacted Ferdinand Porsche to design an “Auto für Jedermann” or and auto for everyman. In 1933 Type 32 created by Porsche. That same year Hitler asks Porsche to build a Volkswagen. Hitler requires the vehicle to be able to transport two adults and three children comfortably, reach a speed of 100 kmh, and be priced such that the average working German would be able to purchase it.

In 1936 the KdF-Wagon (Kraft durch Freude: “strength through joy”), built in KdF-Statt, is introduced with Erwin Komenda responsible for the design and styling of the car. To begin the production of the KdF-Wagon, Porche would need the financial backing of the Third Reich. The KdF-Wagon is advertised to the public announcing the collection of stamps could be used and sent in for a Wagon. The price of a KdF-wagen was 1,000 Reich marks.

A KdF-wagen

World War II

With the commencement of WWII, and ties to government finances, the factory soon begins manufacturing military vehicles. Two major vehicles created were the Kübelwagen and the Schwimmwagen. In fuel shortages, some Volkswagens were said to have been able to run on wood pyrolsis gas producers, known as Holzbrenners. The KdF-wagons created for civilians were sold to a select few of the Nazi elite, not the public.

A normal Kübelwagen

Another Kübelwagen

A Schwimmwagen

Post World War II

The factory was damaged due to allied bombing leading machinery to be moved to underground bunkers where construction of military vehicles continued. After the war and the division of Germany, the remaining factory was to be dismantled and moved to Britain to be sold. However, no one wanted it. British Army officer Major Ivan Hirst was responsible for taking control of the factory. His first task was to first remove an unexploded bomb that had fallen through the roof and landed on irreplaceable machinery. If the bomb went off Volkswagen would not exist. However, he succeeded, and he was able to get the British army to order 20,000 cars, and 1946 the factory was producing 1,000 cars a month. At the same time, the city KdF-Stutt was renamed Wolfsburg and the company was renamed Volkswagen.

The first postwar Beetles were made from Kübelwagen chassis, which were then fitted with the Beetle body. That same year the 10,000th Beetle rolled off the assembly line.

Just eight years after the factory fell into allied hands Volkswagen sold its one-millionth Beetle. The creation of the Beetle, a small, economical car, allowed Germans to rebuild after the war and travel.

Over the years, the car went through only minor changes such as interior designs or colors, engine size, and small body changes, but it kept its signature bubble or bug-like shape. It became the Käfer in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, the ladybug in Belgium, the cockroach in Guatemala and El Salvador, and the even the frog in Indonesia. Beetles have been built in countries outside of Germany, like Mexico where they were used as taxis until recently. The Volkswagen Beetle is now sold in more than four dozen countries around the world. The idea of a small, affordable car went form just a German people’s car to a car found all over the world.

A 1950 Beetle

Important words

Volkswagen: people’s car

KdF-wagen: Kraft durch Freude; strength through joy

Kübelwagen: German Jeep

Schwimmwagen: swimming wagon

Käfer: Beetle


ger/101/2010/fall/christine_drazenovic.txt · Last modified: 2010/10/17 17:26 (external edit)
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