While it’s a common misconception that the BMW logo, known as the Roundel, was inspired by the rotating propeller blades of an aircraft, it’s easy to see how this rumour began given this leading German automotive company’s origins.
In 1913, Karl Friedrich Rapp founded Rapp-Motorenwerke, specialists in aircraft engine manufacture, in Munich, Germany. At the outbreak of World War One, Rapp was perfectly poised to fulfill the resultant high demand for fighter aircraft engines.
Upon receiving an order of 700 units from the Prussian army, it was decided to restructure the company under the name Beyerishe Motoren Werke (BMW). In designing this new company’s logo, it was deemed important to capture some aspects of the original Rapp emblem and, as such, the thick black border, font and spacing of the lettering were retained. Rapp means black stallion in German, hence the black horse in the Rapp-Motorenwerke logo.
Keen to include the colours of the Free State of Bavarian within the new BMW logo, designers hit a snag when they found that the white and blue colour arrangement was reserved exclusively for the royal family. Quick to spot an opportunity, the decision was made to make the colours on the BMW logo blue and white instead. A simple way of remembering this is by looking at the corresponding colours below the letters “B” and “W” on the emblem.
The badges rumoured association with an aircraft’s propeller gained momentum when, in 1929, an image of two flying planes, with the BMW letters visible within the spinning blades, appeared on cover of the BMW aircraft magazine.
At the end of WW1, BMW was forced to cease production of aircraft engines under the Treaty of Versailles. The first time the new BMW logo appeared on a road-going vehicle was on the R32 motorcycle in 1923. In 1929, the BMW 3/15 DA-2 (an evolution of the recently purchased Dixi 3/15 DA-1) became the first car to wear the BMW badge.