Say what you will about the newly jobless Martin Winterkorn: As irresponsible as the former Volkswagen CEO might appear for polluting the Earth with his phony diesel engines, he has never been a member of the National Socialist Party.
The same cannot be said for previous employees of the People's Car corporation. Like Adidas, Puma, Hugo Boss, Bayer, and so many other brands, Volkswagen owes a lot to the Nazis. In fact, the car manufacturer would have never existed had it not been for Hitler's rise to power.
In the 1930s, only about one in 50 Germans owned an automobile, according to Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy. German industry was really only manufacturing luxury cars, so the average German drove a motorcycle, or rode a bicycle, or walked. When Adolf Hitler seized power, one of his ideas was to mass produce an affordable car capable of transporting a family of five. Since private industry couldn't afford such a large manufacturing challenge, the Third Reich did it themselves, forming a car company called Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens mbH, later simplified to Volkswagen.
Citizens would get a Type-1 VW and pay the state back around five Reichsmarks a week. Volkswagen came up with some simple, aspirational advertising to promote the cars, which have become part of a niche fan community online.
And of course, Reddit:
When the first VW factory open in 1938, Hitler was on hand to deliver an address and said:
Hence, I believe there is only one name that can be given to this car, a name I shall give to it on this very evening. It shall bear the name of that organization that strives to instill both joy and strength in the masses. The name shall be: “Strength through Joy Car”! (Kraft durch Freude-Wagen)
When World War II began, the VW factories switched from civilian to military vehicle production. After the war, with Hitler defeated and the Third Reich out of power, production resumed on the Type-1, which quickly was nicknamed the Beetle. In the 1950s, the car came to America and has remained a popular ride ever since thanks to ads like these.
Following World War II Volkswagen, as a private company, helped turn Germany into a model industrial society. It made reasonably priced cars that were often touted for their safety features. Volkswagen torpedoed their reputation this week and might never recover, reaching corporate lows not seen since Enron, but that's another story.
Read all of Fusion's coverage of Dieselgate here. Also note that there's a Downfall parody about the Dieselgate scandal because this meme will never go away. This time, at least, it's actually sort of relevant.
David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: email@example.com