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 (➜ The history of the BMW logo).
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 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.
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.
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.