The name BMW and its history

The name BMW is synonymous with driving pleasure. But how does the acronym actually translate? And how did the name “BMW” come to be in the first place? Find out about the rich history of the name that evokes the imagination and represents the legendary company.

BMW name and history

The acronym BMW stands for “Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH,” which translates to “Bavarian Motor Works.” This name hides a reference to the company’s homeland – Bavaria. It also indicates the original product line of BMW: engines for various applications.
At the origins of today’s BMW AG stands a small company Rapp-Motorenwerke GmbH, which began producing aircraft engines in 1913. During World War I, Rapp was a supplier to the air force of the German Empire. At that time, cars were rare. If you had to go on a long overland journey, the only option was the train.


The headquarters of Rapp Motorenwerke were in Munich, the capital of Bavaria. The Gustav Otto Flugmaschinenfabrik factory, where the engines were installed on aircraft, was also located there. When Gustav Otto’s company went bankrupt in 1916, it was renamed Bayerische Flugzeugwerke AG (BFW). Shortly thereafter, Rapp also changed its name. In 1917 it was renamed Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH. A reminder of Rapp, the company that was at the origins of BMW, is still present in the brand logo.


In August 1918 Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH became a stock company. With the end of World War I, however, the construction of aircraft engines also ceased, because the Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany to produce them. BMW, therefore, concentrated on railway brakes and various integrated engines. Things went so well that the Berlin brake company Knorr-Bremse AG bought a controlling interest in BMW in 1920 and relocated to Munich. As an independent company, Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH temporarily withdrew from the scene, but not for long.


In 1922 the main shareholder of Knorr-Bremse AG was Camillo Castiglioni, an important entrepreneur who had invested a lot of money in aircraft construction. He acquired the rights on the BMW name, as well as technology for the production of engines, all staff, factory buildings and the logo of the company and consolidated everything in the firm BFW – Bayerische Flugzeugwerke AG. That year, the company moved into the buildings of the BFW plant on Lerchenauer Strasse and changed its name to Bayerische Motoren Werke AG. This is the second time the BMW name has been entered in the commercial register.

All this means that BMW AG has become the legal successor to BFW. The BMW Group’s head office and main factory are still located at the former BFW site in the Munich district of Milbersthofen. In addition, the airplane manufacturing company has inherited another value from BMW AG: March 7, 1916, the date on which BFW was founded, is considered the official birthday of BMW.

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