Origins of the BMW Roundel

Interesting | January 10th, 2010 by 10
roundel bmw

A recent story in the New York Times dispels the ‘spinning propeller’ myth of the BMW roundel. Much to the dismay of many, the article …

A recent story in the New York Times dispels the ‘spinning propeller’ myth of the BMW roundel. Much to the dismay of many, the article is 100% correct, the origins of the blue and white checker in the BMW roundel has nothing to do with a propeller.

Instead it has everything to do with the national colors of Bavaria, which is, of course, incorporated in the name of the company. One only has to look at the logo used by the company BMW emerged from, Rapp Motor Works, to understand.

Rapp Motor Works intended to build a number of aero engines for the Prussian War Ministry and the ‘Imperial Prize’. Rapp overreached with a clumsy six cylinder redesign of an existing four cylinder aero engine (they added the additional two cylinders beyond the timing gear at the front of the four cylinder and the engine vibrated excessively).
roundel bmw
Rapp was a contemporary of the Bavarian Aircraft Works founded by Gustav Otto (the son of Nikolaus Otto , inventor of the four stroke engine – also known as the Otto cycle). Rapp’s logo employed a roundel with a black horse head in the center (Rappe is a German word for ‘black horse’). So there is symmetry between the logo and the company name.

When BMW emerged from Rapp, they reused the roundel, inserting a mirrored image of the Bavarian national colors, into the center. The blue and white was reversed from the Bavarian national use in the roundel due to legal constraints around the use of that emblem. But the symmetry between the name of the company and the image in the logo continued.

The propeller myth turns out to have been the result of a technical publication from the late 1920s that provided servicing information for BMW aero engines.

It has taken awhile to debunk that myth but debunked it has been. In fact, a 2005 article by Dr. Florian Triebel, in a BMW Mobile Tradition publication, lays out the entire history fo the BMW roundel and the myth surrounding it. That article can be found here: PDF

10 responses to “Origins of the BMW Roundel”

  1. Victor says:

    Nice article, there’s also one on Bmwism about the roundel: with tons of images and some more info ;)

    • atr_hugo says:

      Neat link – I like them including Veritas. I remember seeing a Veritas F2 car at the Imperial Palace Collection a few years back.

      Thanks Victor!

  2. Brookside says:

    Sometimes myths exist because they fit so well into the core character and identity of the narrative-
    This is a perfect example of the truth NOT setting you (or at least me) free.
    In my mind I’m still going to go with the propeller. No other image, given BMW’s aeronautic history better illustrates the company’s heritage and origins.
    As for the Bavarian State colors….fine.
    Thanks for shedding some light Hugo.

    • Doug says:

      It does, but aesthetically it’s connoting a spinning propeller which is pretty abstract for their art in early 1900s.

      Interesting article.

  3. atr_hugo says:

    The old empiricist in me delights in knowing the true origins. The early years of BMW are pretty convoluted at least up to the point of acquiring Dixi. What I really take out of this is that the company is Bavarian (think Texan in lederhosen – a native Texan will answer up Texan as a nationality before American, I believe the Bavarians have a similar mentality. ; -) and a motor manufacturer. Motors; all kinds, all shapes (except V6s, thank gawd ; -), cutting edge, exquisitely engineered.

  4. Marc says:

    ^^^Good way to put it Atr_Hugo (I have been working in Bavaria for the last 3 months)…funny thing is the Frankische portion of Bavaria is even MORE vocal about being Franconians….LOL. This propeller myth has gone on for quite some time in the U.S. of A. Here in Deutschland…at least in the BMW Car Club circles (which are understandably huge) it has been common knowledge.

  5. bmwm6 says:

    Great article

    off topic

    what really suprised me is that viper didnt come and bash the BMW logo and talk about the MB logo

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