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Biography of Ferdinand Porsche
Ferdinand Porsche was born on September 30, 1875 in Bohemia,
which is now a part of the Czech Republic. He lived in a small
town called Reichenberg. This town was a small peasant town
filled with artisans, carpenters, and tailors. Ferdinand was
a rebellious young man. His father Anton, wanted him to become
a tinsmith and carry on the family business, but the smoke,
fire and gloom of his father's workshop did not interest young
Ferdinand. He saw wonders in another world - the magical realm
In 1890, when Ferdinand was 15 years old, he asked his father
to buy him a battery. Ferdinand wanted to conduct electrical
experiments in the loft of his family's home in Reichenberg.
Ferdinand's mother Anna, insisted that Ferdinand had a special
talent beyond the tinsmith shop and suggested they send Ferdinand
to a special school in Vienna. Anton refused. He pointed out
that Reichenberg had a technical school. Ferdinand could go
to night classes and work in the shop during the day, then they
would find out if Ferdinand was truly talented.
One night as Anton made his way home from a neighboring village,
he saw a strange glow coming from his neighborhood Fearfully,
he rushed home - perhaps his home was burning, but to his delight
he discovered that the light was electricity. Ferdinand had
built and installed a complete electrical system. It had a generator,
switchboard, wires - everything.
The Porsche household was the envy of the neighborhood. Only
the Ginzkey carpet factory had electric lights A few days later,
the Ginzkey family approached Anton. They offered to send Ferdinand
to Vienna to work as a student employed Bela Egger, a company
that manufactured electrical equipemt and machinery. Besides
working there, Ferdinand would become a part-tame student at
the technical university. He could obtain a better education.
Given what Ferdinand had done to their home, Anton now recognized
his son's talent. With his father's blessing, 18-year-old Ferdinand
went to Vienna He had a talent to solve technical problems and
excelled at Bela Egger.
In just four years, he became the manager of their test department.
At the same time, a Viennese businessman -Jacob Lohner - began
looking for someone to help him build electric cars. Lohner
owned Jacob Lohner & Company, which built horse-drawn carnages.
but Lohner was convinced that electnc cars would soon replace
carnages as a means of transportation. Electric motor were quiet
and clean, internal combustion engines were noisy and smoky.
He was certain the public would agree.
In 1898, Lohner hired Porsche to work for him in his newly formed
car manufacturing department. Porsche proved to be the bright
young star that Lohner had hoped him to be. But Porsche also
cost Lohner a lot of money since he liked to build many different
prototypes. By the autumn of 1899, Porsche had settled on one
of the designs. Lohner and Porsche displayed their first electnc
car at the 1900 Worid Exhibition in Paris. Arc lights lit the
entire exhibition, which featured an Electricity Palace. The
car exhibition was extremely popular. Twenty-five years old
Porsche's first car was the 1900 Lohner-Porsche.
The car had two forward speeds low and high. At low speed,
the car traveled at 11 MPH. At high speed, the car could go
23 MPH. For racing purposes, mechanics could adjust the car
to travel at 37 MPH. Already, Porsche was thinking about auto
Though Porsche was known for his intense work habits, he was
not totally devoted to the automobile. Porsche also had strong
family ties and took care of his parents, brothers and sisters.
He even treated close friends as family.
While in Vienna, Porsche met Aloisia Johanna Kaes, who worked
as a bookkeeper at an electrical plant. She was interested in
cars and often attended motor races. When Porsche and Kaes married,
they looked forward to the future together and planned to start
After the war, Porsche resumed his auto design work In 1922,
he built his first small car, the Sascha, which had four cylinders
and a top speed of 89 MPH. Porsche now turned his attention
to building faster cars. He wanted to make Daimler's Austrian
factory famous through auto racing, but the boar of directors
did not share his view. They saw auto racing as expensive and
dangerous. Frustrated Porsche decided to join the Daimler branch
in Stuttgart, Germany.
There, Porsche's ambitions were met favorably.
In nine months, he developed a supercharged car for Mercedes,
which was part of Daimler. In 1924, Porsche sent the supercharged
Mercedes to the world-famous Targa Florio race in Sicily. The
Italian Alfa Romeos had dominated the four-lap race for years.
Again, racing experts favored the Alfa Romeos to win. Porsche's
supercharged Mercedes was too fast. It finished in record time
averaging 41 MPH. Ferdinand Porsche was there to receive the
winning prize. Porsche Later, the technical college of Stuttgart
made him an honorary doctor.
In 1932, Zundapp Works in Nurnberg, Germany, decided thay needed
a small car to offset slumping motorcycle sales Poreche used
a small car design from this Austrian Daimler days Counsellor
Neumeyer, the owner of Zundapp Works, already had a name for
the car He called it "Volksauto" - the "people's
car" Porsche built three prototypes in 1932 All three had
a rear engine, a two-door body, and a spare wheel in the front.
Porsche continued working on the people's car, but later that
year, the motorcycle business revived. Production increased
so much that the company had no time to build the Volksauto.
Once again Porsche shelved this dream of a small car but at
the beginning of 1934, the project suddenly revived. Porsche
was called to the Chancellery in Bernn to meet with Adolf Hitler.
Hitler wanted Porsche to design a car that the people of Germany
could buy for less than 1,000 marks. It would be called "Volkswagen".
Porsche redesigned his small car. It would have a four-cylinder
engine, a maximum speed of 62 MPH, and get 36 miles to the gallon.
Porsche's company built the first prototypes in 1936, and the
German government tested them relentlessly throughout 1937.
Porsche's sturdy design held up. Now the time had come to go
into mass production. His dream of building a small people's
car had finally seen fruition, and little did he know at the
time that the Volkswagen would become the world's best selling
In June 1945, the United States Army captured Porsche, and sent
him to a castle in Hessen. There they interrogated him. Afterwards,
the army allowed him to return to his villa. Just when Porsche
though his life would return to normal, the French arrested
him and sent him to Paris. French officials gave no reason for
his arrest, but clearly Porsche played a vital role in arming
Germany's war machine.
In Paris, the French held him in the porter's lodge of a villa
belonging to Renault, a French car manufacturer. The company
sought Porsche's opinion many times to help improve its automobiles.
After being transferred to a prison in Dijon (France), Porsche
was finally released on August 5, 1947. On returning to his
villa, Porsche assisted with a race car design for the Cisitaha
works inTurin (Italy). His son, Ferry, and Porsche's chief engineer,
Karl Rabe had started the design while Porsche was in prison.
When he examined the design Porsche declared, "If I had
designed it, I would not have done it any differently".
Unfortunately the Cisitaha never saw a race because of financial
difficulties. The Argentine company, Autoar, bought Cisitaha
but Autoar had trouble running and maintaining me car, and eventually
abandoned it. In 1947 Porsche and his son went to work on the
first car to carry the Porsche name. It's distinctive design
would set the standard for all future Porsche cars. The prototype,
called the 356, was actually a sports car version of the Volkswagen
that Porsche had designed for Adolf hitler. Ready in 1948 the
Porsche 356 was an open two-seater, with a maximum speed of
86 MPH. Porsche placed a Volkswagen engine in the rear and the
fuel tank in front with the spare tire. Auto experts gave rave
reviews to the Porsche 356. Orders came in from all over the
world, but one problem made the fulfilling of these orders almost
impossible: Porsche's Gmünd factory had a very small staff,
and the town was not even connected to a railroad. In the winter
of 1948-1949, small-scale production began. The company built
five cars per month. All body work was done by hand - by one
man. When he did not work, production stopped. This slow process
lasted for six months. Then Porsche hired more people until
he employed nearly 300 workers Production increased, and so
did me orders.
Next, Porsche approached the mayor of Stuttgart and asked permission
for his company to return to its old production plant. The military
government, run by the Allies, granted Poreche's request. Porsche's
return to Stuttgart was completed by 1950. The company built
8 to 10 cars per month. Eventually Porsche would produce 80
cars per month from the same factory.
Porsche's reputation for high performance and high quality grew,
and exports began to soar. Sports car enthusiasts from all over
the world could not stop talking about the 356. The Porsche
legacy had begun. On September 30, 1950 Ferdinand Porsche celebrated
his 75th birthday. Porsche owners from all over Germany flooded
the streets of Stuttgart, honking their horns and flashing their
lights in honor of the great designer. Deeply touched Porsche
emerged from his villa and walked from car to car, personally
thanking each driver. The tribute proved to be timely. In 1951
Porsche suffered a crippling stroke from which he never recovered.
On January 30, 1952 Ferdinand Porsche died. Hundreds came to
mourn him at his funeral. Ferdinand Porsche was truly one of
the worid's greatest auto designers, a man whose love for automobiles
had helped him forge a long and successful career.
Thanks to Porsche's son. Ferry, who continued Ferdinand's tradition
of excellence, many of the most popular cars today still bear
the Porsche name. The classic shapes of the Porsche 911, 928
and 959 still symbolize Ferdinand Porsche's dedication to innovation,
performance, and quality.
courtesy the porsche archives