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).
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