We doubt that every person on Earth knows what a Volkswagen Beetle is…but we bet its close. With its instantly recognizable design and pop culture fame, the Volkswagen Beetle is an automotive icon. Here’s the story behind this iconic car.
From the start, an inexpensive car
In the early 1930s, the construction of the now-famous Autobahn highways had begun in Germany and the only people able to use it were those rich enough to afford a car. This bothered a fellow by the name of Adolf Hitler enough that he proposed the development of an inexpensive car that would bring car ownership to the masses. He knew that car ownership would help Germany transition make its way out of an agrarian economy and into the prosperous age of technology.
When Hitler was looking for someone to build his new car, he turned to his fellow Austrian Ferdinand Porsche. Porsche was already a famous designer who worked for many German engineering firms. As it turns out, Porsche had been working on the idea of an affordable car for a long time already so when Hitler came a calling, he was ready. Within months, he had a design ready for Hitler’s approval.
Strength through Joy Car
This new car was intended to transform Germany and Hitler proposed that it be named “Kraft Durch Freude” (Strength through Joy Car.) Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before the people for whom the car was intended started calling it “the people’s car”—or Volkswagen. As you might surmise, this name stuck and became the name of the company, in addition to the car.
Americans loved it
In January 1949, Volkswagen delivered a VW “Type 1” Beetle, to Ben Pon Sr., a Dutch businessman and the world’s first official Volkswagen importer. Soon, Pon was selling large numbers. Sales were so good that Volkswagen established a U.S. sales arm in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., in late 1955.
Decades of Beetles worldwide
The Volkswagen Beetle was first produced in 1938 and production actually continued right up to 2003—an amazing 65 years of production. The last original Beetle to be sold in the US changed hands in 1979. According to Winner VW, a Volkswagon dealer in Dover, DE, it continued in Mexico, though, through 2003. Unfortunately, those Mexican built VWs couldn’t be imported into the US due to emission requirements. After the Beetle came the Rabbit but despite improved features, it never caught the public’s imagination in the same way that the Beetle did.