Is it a propeller or not? BMW’s iconic logo has been a hot discussion topic for decades. And all because of a publicity stunt. Learn what the BMW emblem really means, how it came to be – and how the brand’s transformation is reflected in the new BMW logo.
22 September 2020
“Many people believe the BMW logo is a stylized propeller,” says Fred Jakobs of BMW Group Classic. “But the truth is a little different.” So, what does the BMW logo mean? And what does the BMW badge represent? We will explain everything here as part of our series “BMW explained”.
Many people believe the BMW logo is a stylized propeller. But the truth is a little different.
Archive Director, BMW Group Classic
There was no need for a BMW symbol at first
The history of the name BMW – the Bayerische Motoren Werke or Bavarian Motor Works – dates back to 1917. BMW emerged from a renaming of the aircraft engine manufacturer Rapp Motorenwerke, located in Munich, the capital of the State of Bavaria in southern Germany. Although the company name changed, the technical equipment, assets and workforce initially remained the same. When the name BMW was first included in the commercial register in July 1917, there was no company logo. Similarly, the first ad from the same month also lacked any BMW symbol or emblem. What it did feature alongside aircraft engines, however, was its future planned product range: Engines for automobiles, agriculture and boats. “In the early days, the logo and its meaning were by no means as present to a broad public as they are today, as BMW had no end customers to solicit,” explains Fred Jakobs. The main business was the production and maintenance of aircraft engines for the German Air Force.
BMW emerged from the firm Rapp Motorenwerke GmbH (1913-1917). This can also be seen in the first BMW logo from October 1917, which continued Rapp’s tradition of having a black ring around the company logo bearing the company name.
The BMW Logo features inverse Bavarian colors
Nevertheless, on October 5th, 1917 the young firm received a company logo. This first BMW badge, which was registered in the German Imperial Register of Trademarks, retained the round shape of the old Rapp logo. The outer ring of the symbol was now bounded by two gold lines and bore the letters BMW. The company’s home state of Bavaria was also to be represented on the company logo. The quarters of the inner circle on the BMW badge display the state colors of the State of Bavaria – white and blue. But they are in the inverse order (at least as far as heraldic rules are concerned, where you read clockwise from the top left). The reason for this inverse order of blue and white in the BMW logo was the local trademark law at the time, which forbade the use of state coats of arms or other symbols of sovereignty on commercial logos.