The BMW name and its history

3 min reading time
The name BMW stands for driving pleasure. But what is this acronym actually short for? And how did the BMW name come about? Read the interesting story of a moving company name here.

1 August 2019

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The acronym BMW stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH, which roughly translates to the Bavarian Engine Works Company. The name harks back to the company’s origin in the German state of Bavaria. It also indicates BMW's original product range: engines for various applications.

Today's BMW AG has its origin in Rapp-Motorenwerke GmbH, which began producing aircraft engines in 1913. During the First World War, Rapp supplied the air force of the German Empire. At that time, automobiles had not yet broken through into the mainstream. If you wanted to travel long distances on land, you went by train.

Rapp Motorenwerke becomes BMW

Rapp Motorenwerke had its headquarters in the Bavarian capital, Munich – as did the factory where the engines were fitted into the aircrafts, Gustav Otto Flugmaschinenfabrik. When the Otto company went bankrupt in 1916, it became Bayerische Flugzeugwerke AG (BFW). Shortly afterwards, Rapp also changed its company name: In 1917, the company became known as Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH. BMW’s origin in the Rapp company can also be seen on the logo.

In 1918, the factory premises of the Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH were still a greenfield site. Today, BMW Group Classic occupies these prestigious buildings in the Moosacher Straße, Munich.

The BMW name vanishes – for a time

In August 1918, Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH became a stock corporation. But the end of the First World War brought a halt to the construction of aircraft engines, as the Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany from building them. So BMW shifted its focus to railway brakes and built-in motors. This was so successful that the Berlin-based brakes company Knorr-Bremse AG took majority ownership of BMW in 1920, integrated the company and relocated to Munich. Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH as an independent company disappeared temporarily from the scene – albeit not for long.

BMW AG in the 1970s. The picture shows a shift change at the Milbertshofen plant in Munich, Germany.

BMW founding, take two!

In 1922, the major investor and aircraft construction pioneer Camillo Castiglioni was the main shareholder of Knorr-Bremse AG. He bought the BMW company name and took over engine construction operations, along with the employees, production facilities and company logo, and transferred everything to BFW, Bayerische Flugzeugwerke AG.

In the same year, the company moved into BFW’s factory buildings in Lerchenauer Strasse and changed its name to Bayerische Motoren Werke AG. And that’s how the BMW name found its way into the commercial register for a second time.

A BMW showroom in Berlin in 1929.

All this means that BMW AG is the legal successor of BFW. The corporate headquarters and parent plant of the BMW Group are still located at the former BFW site in Milbertshofen, Munich to this day. And there’s something else the aircraft manufacturers bequeathed to BMW AG, too: BFW’s founding date of March 7, 1916 is considered to be BMW’s official birthday.

The first BMW motorcycle, the R 32, came onto the market in 1923, followed in 1933 by the BMW 303, the company’s first completely new, self-developed car. BMW AG ceased production of aircraft engines at the end of the Second World War.

See BMW’s predecessor companies in our gallery

Rapp/BMW AG – BMW Group Archiv
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Production at Rapp Motorenwerke in Munich. In 1917, the company became known as Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH.
Hudeck J./BMW AG
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Rapp Motorenwerke was a specialist in engines for military aircraft.
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Gustav Otto Flugmaschinenfabrik fitted Rapp-Motorenwerke engines in aircraft.
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Company founder Gustav Otto in front of one of his aircrafts. His firm played an important role in BMW’s history.
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The Berlin-based company Knorr-Bremse took over Bayerische Motoren Werke in 1920 and relocated to Munich. The photo shows the production of brake compressors in 1947.
Österreichische Nationalbibliothek
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Knorr's major shareholder and aircraft pioneer Camillo Castiglioni transferred the rights to the BMW name, along with engine construction, to Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (BFW).
Königl.Bay.Luftbildschule-Bayer. Hauptstaatsarchiv
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In 1917, BMW AG’s current home, the site then occupied by predecessor firm BFW, was still located outside Munich’s city limits.
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The Milbertshofen site is now the headquarters of BMW AG, with its famous four-cylinder tower and the BMW Welt (front left).

What does BMW stand for?

The BMW name stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH. BMW was created in 1917 from the Munich firm Rapp-Motorenwerke. The company was incorporated into Knorr-Bremse AG in 1920 before being refounded as BMW AG in 1922. It was the successor of Bayerische Flugzeugwerke AG, founded in 1916. 1916 is therefore considered BMW’s founding year.


BMW Group Classic.

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