Volkswagen Beetle, need for such car and its functional objectives, were formulated by Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany, wishing for a cheap, simple car to be mass-produced for the new road network of his country. It was shortly after the first post-war Christmas 1945 that the first of the Volkswagen Type 1 – the model which, as the Beetle, would subsequently be sold more than 21 million times – rolled off the production line in Wolfsburg.
By the end of 1945 only 55 vehicles had been produced in total however. The start of mass production was a highly improvised undertaking, and material shortages hampered operations over the subsequent months. Yet the early vehicles were visible symbols of hope; a new beginning for the car plant under British control. And, by the end of the Second World War in 1945, just 630 of the People’s Car known as the ‘KdF-Wagen’ had been built.
The state-of-the-art factory in what was to become the present-day Wolfsburg, was integrated into Germany’s wartime armaments industry, producing mainly military goods. The site was occupied by US troops on 11th April 1945. In June 1945, the British Military Government took over trusteeship of the factory with its workforce of some 6,000 people. A month later, Senior Resident Officer, Major Ivan Hirst acquired an initial order for 20,000 Saloons, thereby providing the factory and its workforce with a future, and avoiding the threat of decommissioning and dismantling.
Dr. Manfred Grieger, Head of the Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft Corporate History Department, sums up: “Volkswagen was very fortunate in that the robust Saloon helped the British Military Government to carry out its administrative functions, and that in Ivan Hirst it had the right man at the helm. The skilful pragmatist gave the factory and the workforce a vision, motivating British military personnel and German workers alike to turn the languishing works into a successful market-driven business. He knew the qualities of the Volkswagen Saloon, and was able to realise them on the road.”
The Beetle was a key factor in the development of democracy and mobility in post-war Germany, and subsequently found a home in many other countries, acting as an important ambassador in promoting a positive image of Germany. Production at the Beetle’s last manufacturing location in Puebla, Mexico, was discontinued at the end of July 2003.
With over 21 million vehicles built, the Beetle had become an automotive icon, loved by many millions of people. Its characteristic shape is recognised everywhere.