He actually sneaked
into night classes and eventually became a very successful
engineer -- I'm sure there's a lesson here somewhere for the kids in
He had the same name -- Ferdinand -- as my dad. His father's name
was Anton, which, coincidentally, was the name of my dad's
The young inventor's father owned a plumbing business, and
Ferdinand was expected to take it over when his father retired.
Despite earning his apprenticeship as a plumber, he avoided working
in the family business and was often trying to learn from electrical
experiments, which his father called "nonsense."
In one of his early jobs, he helped design an electric carriage
car that set several national speed records. The speed record at the
time was just a little over 35 mph!
In 1902, a year before he got married, he served as the driver
for Archduke Francis Ferdinand. Yes, that Archduke Francis
Ferdinand, the one whose assassination in 1914 triggered the start
of World War I, which was then known as "The Great War" because it
was the only world war up to that point in history.
In 1906, Ferdinand went to work for Austro-Daimler as its chief
engineer. At the time, Austro-Daimler was a unit of what is now
Daimler-Chrysler. For most of the time period between 1910 and 1920,
the company produced mainly war materials, yet Ferdinand went on to
become one of the greatest engineers in the history of automaking.
[to top of second column]
His car became known as the "people's car." Adolph Hitler, who
was chancellor then, decided that every family needed a small car or
tractor -- and a radio, to be able to listen to his propaganda
speeches. The designer's vision was to create a mass-produced car
that the average German could afford, yet to this day the car that
bears Ferdinand's name is only affordable to the wealthy.
You probably recognize one of Ferdinand's cars by his last name
But this story isn't about the Porsche sports car. Oh, sure, a
man named Ferdinand Porsche did design the car that bears his
name, but it was the son -- Ferdinand Porsche Jr. -- who was mainly
responsible for the design.
The word "Porsche" does not mean "people's car." Not in German
nor in any other language. The car that Ferdinand Porsche Sr.
designed was… the Volkswagen Beetle.
After all, in English, the word "Volkswagen" translates into
[Text from file received
from Paul Niemann]
Paul Niemann may be reached at
Copyright Paul Niemann 2007