Jorgen Skafte Rasmussen, a Dane by birth, established his first company in Saxony after studying Engineering in Mittweida. In 1904 he set up an apparatus engineering company in Chemnitz, three years later moving to Zschopau, in the Erzgebirge region, where he began to experiment with steam-driven motor vehicles in 1916.
Although these experiments did not lead to any specific product, they yielded the company name and trademark DKW, derived from the German words for "steam-driven vehicle" (Dampf Kraft Wagen).
In 1919, Rasmussen obtained the design of a two-stroke engine from Hugo Ruppe, a tiny version of which he sold as a toy engine under the name of "Des Knaben Wunsch", meaning "The Boy's Dream". This mini engine was subsequently upscaled and used as an auxiliary cycle engine, evolving into a fully-fledged motorcycle engine called "Das Kleine Wunder" (The Little Miracle" in 1922. Under the watchful eye of J. S. Rasmussen (together with manager Carl Hahn and chief designer Hermann Weber), DKW became the biggest motorcycle manufacturer in the world in the 1920s.
DKW also enjoyed a leading international position as an engine manufacturer.
In 1927, Rasmussen had acquired design and production facilities for six- and eight-cylinder engines from a Detroit automobile company which had been wound up. Two new Audi models powered by these engines appeared on the market. However, Rasmussen recognized the signs of the times and stepped up his activities in small cars. The very first DKW cars actually had rear-wheel drive and were built in Berlin-Spandau.
At the end of 1930, Rasmussen commissioned the Zwickau plant to develop a car having the following design features: a two-cylinder, two-stroke motorcycle engine with a swept volume of 600 cc, a unitary wooden chassis with leatherette upholstery, swing axles at the front and rear, and front-wheel drive.
The car which Audi designers Walter Haustein and Oskar Arlt came up with was given the name DKW Front. It was unveiled at the 1931 Berlin Motor Show, where it caused something of a sensation. The DKW Front was built at the Audi factory, and went on to become the most-produced, most popular German small car of its day.
(Copyright Audi AG)
A legend of the automotive world is celebrating its centenary this year: DKW. The company from Zschopau in Saxony originally planned to build steam-driven vehicles, yet ultimately rose to fame courtesy of its two-stroke engine.
KW had already become the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer in the late 1920s, and then in the 1930s was the first company to mass-produce vehicles with front-wheel drive. DKW produced the pre-war period's answer to Volkswagen, the F-series small cars, in astonishing numbers. Audi Tradition is marking the anniversary of its predecessor brand by entering DKW classic cars in a whole host of events, including the Mille Miglia and the Gran Premio Nuvolari in Italy, the Concours d'Elegance in Bergerac, France, the Silvretta Classic and Ennstal Classic in Austria, and of course the "100 Years of Rasmussen" festival in the town of Zschopau on 26 August.
In 1907 the Dane Jorgen Skafte Rasmussen set up a small metal goods factory in Zschopau in the Ore Mountains. After initially manufacturing exhaust-steam oil separators, steam-engine equipment and other metal goods, he started to experiment with steam-driven cars in 1916. The project did not continue past the prototype phase. What did remain, however, was the brand name derived from this project: DKW, the abbreviation of the German word for steam-driven vehicle (Dampfkraftwagen). In 1919 Rasmussen built a two-stroke engine, which he marketed as a toy engine under the name "Des Knaben Wunsch" (literally: "The Boy's Wish"). This mini-engine was enlarged and used as an auxiliary bicycle engine, and subsequently in 1922 was made into a genuine motorcycle engine known as "Das Kleine Wunder" ("The Small Miracle"). Under the auspices of Jorgen Skafte Rasmussen with Manager Carl Hahn and Chief Designer Hermann Weber, DKW developed into the world's most important motorcycle manufacturer in the course of the 1920s, in 1928 the Zschopau plant was the largest motorcycle factory in the world. In that very year Rasmussen took over the Audi car factories in Zwickau, and two years later commissioned the Audi designers with the production of a small car with the following design features: a DKW two-cylinder two-stroke motorcycle engine with a displacement of 600 cc, a unitary wooden body with leatherette upholstery, front and rear swing axles and front-wheel drive. The DKW Front was thus born, becoming one of the best-selling and most popular German small cars of its time.
On 29 June 1932, Auto Union AG was founded with its headquarters in Chemnitz, a result of the Great Depression. This new enterprise was formed by the merger of the four previously independent companies Zschopauer Motorenwerke J. S. Rasmussen AG (DKW) from Zschopau, Audiwerke AG from Zwickau (which J. S. Rasmussen had already owned since 1928), Horchwerke AG from Zwickau and the automotive department of Wanderer Werke AG from Chemnitz.
The DKW products were no less important for the economic development of the new company than Jorgen Skafte Rasmussen and his Zschopauer Motorenwerke enterprise had been in founding Auto Union AG. The DKW motorcycles and cars with their typical two-stroke engines served the low market segment (the price category between 345 and 3,400 Reichsmarks) and constituted the Auto Union high-volume model range. For example, up to 4,800 units of the DKW cars with front-wheel drive were built per month in the late 1930s. The DKW motorcycles were produced in such large quantities that in 1937 Auto Union once again became the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer with its DKW plant in Zschopau, producing a total of 55,470 motorcycles. A further important area of production comprised the DKW stationary engines, which were available in an incredibly wide range of vehicles and could be used in a great variety of fields (e.g. agriculture, road construction, the fire brigade, the army and public authorities).
DKW products were acknowledged to be simple, practical, reliable, economical, durable and high-performance. In terms of its technology, the Zschopau-based company proved to be an innovative pioneer in the areas of two-stroke engines, front-wheel drive and body manufacturing (wooden and plastic bodies). This pioneering spirit was also the inspiration behind the innovative potential of Auto Union AG, which set up a Central Design Office and a Central Experimental Department in Chemnitz for all Auto Union brands from 1936.
A joint approach to vehicle production was cultivated at DKW to a greater extent than at any of the other Auto Union brands: the engines were manufactured at the main factory in Zschopau, the bodies were produced at the DKW body manufacturing plant in the Spandau district of Berlin; the four-cylinder models with rear-wheel drive were also built here. Assembly of the front-wheel-drive models took place at the Audi plant in Zwickau. This was a quite astonishing logistical achievement at the time.
The DKW brand, whose main competitor in the 1930s was Opel, offered Auto Union great potential, with which the company fully intended to counter the expected competition from the KdF-Wagen (Volkswagen) by launching a model (DKW F 9) which was every bit its equal. This would have made Auto Union the only car company in Germany to have had an immediate response ready to challenge this Volkswagen model.
After the war Auto Union GmbH, which was re-founded in West Germany, was able to re-establish a foothold in the automotive industry in Ingolstadt and Dusseldorf, and it was with the DKW brand that it did so. DKW vehicles were built in West Germany until 1965, following which the two-stroke era came to an end at Auto Union in Ingolstadt and the company turned its attention to four-stroke engines, thereby enabling the renaissance of another "old" brand, Audi.
The four rings of the Audi badge symbolise the brands Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer, which were later combined under the umbrella of Auto Union. Auto Union and NSU, which merged in 1969, made many significant contributions towards the development of the car. AUDI AG was formed from Audi NSU Auto Union AG in 1985.
Together with the two traditional companies Auto Union GmbH and NSU GmbH, Audi Tradition nurtures and presents the deep and diverse history of Audi. The Audi museum mobile at the Audi Forum Ingolstadt is open daily from Monday to Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Dates in the history of DKW.
The Rasmussen & Ernst company was established in Chemnitz to make exhaust steam fittings
On April 13, transfer of the company to Zschopau, where Rasmussen had purchased land in 1906. Rasmussen was registered as sole proprietor; the sales office remained in Chemnitz
Rasmussen & Ernst, Zschopau-Chemnitz, Maschinen- und Armaturenfabrik, Apparatebauanstalt
Zschopauer Maschinenfabrik J.S. Rasmussen
Experiments with steam-driven vehicles continued until 1918
The 25 cc miniature two-stroke engine ("Des Knaben Wunsch")
Zschopauer Motorenwerke J.S. Rasmussen; the first auxiliary bicycle engine ("Das kleine Wunder")
DKW trade mark registered for engines and motorcycles
Zschopauer Motorenwerke J.S. Rasmussen AG established on December 22. Capital in 1924: 1 million RM, increased in 1929 to 10 million RM
World's largest motorcycle manufacturer; start of car production
On June 29, amalgamation with Horch Werke AG, AUDI Werke AG and the car division of Wanderer Werke AG to create AUTO UNION AG with its headquarters in Chemnitz
Much of the material on this website is copyrighted. Original articles appearing herein are subject to copyright. Please don't copy stuff from the site without asking; it may belong to someone! Any trademarks appearing on this site are the sole property of the registered owners. No endorsement by trademark owners is to be construed. The products, brand names, characters, related slogans and indicia are or may by claimed as trademarks of their respective owners. Every effort has been made whenever possible to credit the sources. The use of such material falls under the Fair Use provisions of intellectual property laws.