Add to Technorati Favorites!

Bookmark this page

BMW history

BMW in the 1910s - the beginning

You are here: Home >> BMW history

To better understand BMW today you have to know and understand BMW history. The last century gives the “flavor” of today’s BMW cars, the ingredient that makes them so special. This “special” can be almost seen as the soul of a person. BMW cars have an unmistakably personality and an obsessive care about the feeling of driving, thus their slogan "the ultimate driving machine". This creates a bond between the car and the driver that may last for a lifetime.

These three magic letters stand for Bayerische Motoren Werke, or in English, Bavarian Motor Works. The "Motor" is the core of this acronym and is the foundation; the key part around which BMW builds every product.

BMWDrives invites you to be part in this amazing trip and you will find out the story that lies behind BMW history.


Not everybody knows that BMW started as a manufacturer of aircraft engines. In Ocotber 1913 Karl Friedrich Rapp establishes "Rapp-Motorenwerke" in a former bicycle factory near Munich. Rapp was an engineer who arise through thr Daimler system and "Rapp-Motorenwerke" was set up asa a subsidiary of "Flugwerk", an airplane maker. He starts manufacturing his own aircraft engines but unfortunately they suffered form problems with vibrations.

Close to Rapp´s factory, Gustav Otto, the son of the inventor of the four-stroke internal combustion engine, sets up a business building small aircrafts. Otto enjoys great success with "Gustav Flugmaschinefabrik".


Rapp's company has secured a contract with Prussia and Austro-Hungary to produce 25 large V12 aircraft engines. Rapp Motoren Werke had problems with the reliability of the engines so they began buying four-cylinder water-cooled aircraft engines from the Gustav Otto factory. In the following months Otto's company is absorbed. Gustav Otto´s "Gustav Flugmaschinefabrik" merging with "Rapp-Motorenwerke" formed "Bayerische Flugzeug-Werke" or BFW, in English "Bavarian Aircraft Works"

Franz-Josef Popp, an Austrian engineer, directed Rapp's business. He was securing the all-importnt military contracts. Popp tranformed then the existing company into "Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH". BMW formally recognizes its birthday as March 7, 1916. Shortly after the merge, Popp realized that the company expanded too quickly and they needed financial help. He turned to Camillo Castiglioni, a Vienna financier, who was head of the Wiener Bankverein. Popp and Castiglioni recapitalized the company.


Popp and Castiglioni forced Rapp out of the company who needs to depart in this year.

In 1917, BMW's first aircraft engine, the Type IIIa, goes into production. It is a water-cooled six-cylinder inline engine, it features a unique "high-altitude carburetor" developed bychief engineer Max Friz that allows it to develop full power at altitude. Max Friz was a grand engineering mind who would dominate BMW's product development culture on into the 1960's.

Popp convinced the German government to buy the BMW IIIa engine.


In 1918 this engine powered a biplane to 5,000 meters altitude in just 29 minutes. It was an impressive performance in the BMW history, one that led to strong demand for BMW engines.

"Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH" becomes BMW AG (The German term Aktiengesellschaft means a corporation that is limited by shares, i.e., owned by shareholders. It may be traded on the stock market. The term is used in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The U.S. equivalent term is "public company", source Wikipedia) the company that we know and admire today.


After the armistice was signed, the Allies prohibited German military to produce aircraft engines. Therefor BMW turned to boat and truck engines and farming equipment. Meanwhile, in secret, Popp continued to work with his engineering director Friz on aircraft engines.

A successor for the Type IIIa engine is born. It is named naturally Type IV. With this engine, Franz Zeno Diemer sets an altitude record of 9,760 metres (32,013 ft).


The tough business climate at the end of WW1 made Castiglioni to sell his holdings for 28 million Reichsmarks to the chief executive of Knorr Bremsen AG. With only a few aircraft engines on order, BMW was struggling and started to manufacture brake systems for railway cars, office furniture, and workbenches, as well as cut-down aviation engines for marine and industrial use.

The current BMW logo, introduced in the early 1920, was believed to be based on the circular design of an aircraft propeller.

next - BMW history: the 1920s