Sunday 26/05 will be the 75th anniversary of the foundation stone laying ceremony of Germany’s largest car factory on a brownfield site near the village of Fallersleben next to the Mittelland Canal in the north of the country. The town to house the workforce that was built on the south side of the canal became known as Wolfsburg. 75 years on, the factory – which was originally modelled on Ford’s River Rouge complex in Dearborn, Michigan – has become the largest car production plant under one roof in the world, covering an area the size of Monaco with over 50,000 employees. Today, Wolfsburg is the world headquarters of the Volkswagen Group which operates 100 production facilities building 12 vehicle brands on all five continents around the globe. Wolfsburg was the first and still remains the largest of these plants.
It was on May 26, 1938 – Ascension Day – that the German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, laid the foundation stone for the factory that would produce an affordable car for the people, a Volks-Wagen – or ‘car for the folk’, as part of his plan to bring motoring to the masses. To the surprise of many people, Hitler announced that the new car would be officially called the ‘KdF-Wagen’ or Strength through Joy Car. KdF was the state-controlled leisure arm of the German Labour Front (DAF) and even more surprising was that the town was to be called ‘Stadt des KdF-Wagens’ – Town of the Strength through Joy Car.
Commemorative label pins were made available at the time and are quite collectible. The text reads, “Foundation stone laying of the Volkswagen factory May 1938”.
The plant was named ‘Wolfsburg Motor Works’ by The Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers of the British Army in 1945. At the end of the war, the plant found itself in the British sector and was administered by the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) of the British Army who, under the leadership of Major Ivan Hirst, restarted production and renamed the town Wolfsburg and the factory Wolfsburg Motor Works after the nearby 14th century Wolfsburg Castle.
Four years later in 1949 following the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany, the British military handed the plant back to the German government. Volkswagen eventually became a public limited company in 1960 with the state of Lower Saxony the majority shareholder. Since then Volkswagen have recognised the role Ivan Hirst (1916 – 2000) and the REME played in their rise from the ashes of the Second World War by maintaining a close bond with the regiment and also by naming a main road in the city Major-Hirst-Strasse.
Back on that spring day in 1938, Hitler announced the government’s intention to produce six to seven million of these curious looking streamlined cars and that a town would be built next to the factory to house the workers with a planned population of 60,000. Of the thousands gathered listening to the speech, I’m sure not many could envisage that almost 12 million would be produced at the plant until July 1974 and continue in production at other factories around the world into the 21st century with the final air-cooled Beetle rolling off the production line in Mexico in 2003 with over 21.5 million cars built. Today, the population of Wolfsburg is around 123,000, with just over 50,000 employed at the Volkswagen factory. The car, the factory and the city of Wolfsburg have exceeded all expectations and we congratulate the city and Volkswagen on a remarkable achievement.
Colour pictures published in Life magazine which covered the historic event.
Another photo of the three cars at the foundation stone laying ceremony.
The following is a contemporary report of the foundation stone laying ceremony that appeared in weekly British automotive journal The Autocar (founded 1895) of June 3, 1938.
GERMAN “PEOPLE’S” CAR,
The Autocar magazine – June 3, 1938
First Details and illustrations of £80 Vehicle: Foundation Stone of Factory Laid
Herr Hitler introduced his ideal worker’s car with the usual pageantry, and laid the foundation stone of the new factory at Fallersleben
First announced in 1934, Herr Hitler’s Volkswagen, or “People’s car,” is now taking final shape. The first pictures of the three types appear on this page. Germany is in high glee as a result of the Führer’s promises of a small car at 990 marks – that is, £80 at normal exchange. English journals have quoted £50 and £60 as the price of the car, but that is an exaggeration. Herr Hitler’s task of producing a complete runabout in three types at £80 is sufficiently great in itself.
If he succeeds in his ambitious plan in this State-controlled factory, what will be its effect upon the existing German motor industry, and, indeed, the German motor cycle industry, which has to-day grown to considerable proportions?
It is not easy to obtain the true reactions of the leading German motor manufacturers, particularly those dealing in small cars, but, quite obviously, they must view with concern this State-assisted competitor and its possible effect upon their sales and welfare of their workpeople.
Hitler’s idea is that his £80 car will be sold only to those who cannot afford any more. In order to ensure a steady market and absorb this mass-produced vehicle it will be made possible to buy it through the Labour Front by weekly payments of five marks, and to insure the car at one mark per week. It is a splendid idea – if it works without serious injury to existing trade – but time alone will prove or disprove its practicability.
Millions of cars needed
When he laid the foundation stone of the new factory last week-end at Fallersleben, Brunswick, where the new Volkswagen is to be produced, Her Hitler said that the German people required not a mere two or three hundred thousand of these cars, but rather six or seven million. The new car would give happiness to millions and supply their need of a means of transport, and he therefore named the car the K.D.F. – Kraft Durch Freude (Strength through Joy) – car. Sixty thousand people, including army units, Hitler Youth and factory organisations with brass bands, cheered the announcement.
It is anticipated that the new car, which, it will be agreed, is of pleasing design, will probably be on sale at the end of next year and will cost 990 marks (ex-works). With a length of 13ft. 6in. and a width of 4ft. 9in., weight 12 cwt. approx., it provides accommodation for four of five people and their luggage. It is driven by a 1,200 c.c. four-cylinder air-cooled, horizontally opposed engine mounted at the rear of the chassis, and provides a maximum speed of over 60 m.p.h., and petrol consumption in the neighbourhood of 40 m.p.g. It has independent suspension on the torsion-bar principle.
Thirty of these cars which were built last year have up to the present covered about 1,300,000 miles under varying conditions, individual cars having been on test for some 62,000 miles. The chassis is fitted with three types of body – tourer, cabriolet and saloon, all with two doors. Two of these are illustrated on the previous page.
In order to accommodate the workers who will be required to staff the new factory, which is to cost £500,000, a complete town is to be built which will eventually have a population of 60,000, and which will be planned as a model industrial settlement. One thousand workers selected for the new factory are to begin an intensive course of training this year.
The saloon and the touring types of the “Volkswagen”. In addition to these two styles there is a cabriolet saloon.
The city of Wolfsburg will be celebrating its 75th anniversary with many special events over the coming months, including a car show and swapmeet organised by the 1. Käfer Club Wolfsburg e.V. taking place over the weekend of 28 – 30 June at the Allerpark, just to the east of the Autostadt on the north bank of the Mittelland Canal.
Credits are for Pete Frost who gethered and shared this information with us.