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History of AUDI | Horch | DKW | Wanderer

Jörgen Skafte Rasmussen,
founder of DKW (1878-1964)

Born in Nakskov, Denmark, Rasmussen trained as an engineer in Mittweida and Zwickau and, in 1907 at the age of 29, set up a small factory in Zschopau, Saxony that manufactured steam boiler fittings. During the First World War, the Dane developed a steam-driven vehicle (German: Dampfkraftwagen) there, the German initials of which later gave his products their name.

After 1918 Rasmussen switched to two-stroke engines in Zschopau and began producing motorcycles. Following an incredible upward trend, he succeeded in building up the Zschopauer Motorenwerke into the world's biggest motorcycle factory by 1928.

In the same year Rasmussen started manufacturing cars, becoming the first person in Germany to build vehicles with front-wheel drive as standard. These became increasingly popular.

DKW, however, was also to feel the effects of the Great Depression and, the Saxon motor vehicle manufacturers Audi, Horch, DKW and Wanderer merged to form the company Auto Union.

Rasmussen was one of the key figures in the founding of Auto Union AG and was a member of its board between 1932 and 1934. However, irreconcilable differences over management tasks prompted Rasmussen to leave Auto Union AG in 1935. After the Second World War he returned to Denmark where he died in Copenhagen on 12 August 1964.

Rasmussen was innovative in several respects with his DKW brand. DKW entered the market at a time when the competition was long since established and succeeded in appealing to the emotions of customers and dealers alike. With brilliantly simple and sturdy products, DKW in particular made it possible for broad sections of the population to become mobile. Encouraged by clever advertising strategies and highly attractive instalment payment models, customers started to trust in the brand that they were also to remain faithful to after the war – although there were no new DKW products for years to come. Take Photo Tour of DKW Automobiles

Dates in the history of DKW

  • 1904 - The Rasmussen & Ernst company was established in Chemnitz to make exhaust steam fittings
  • 1907 - 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
  • 1909 - Rasmussen & Ernst, Zschopau-Chemnitz, Maschinen- und Armaturenfabrik, Apparatebauanstalt
  • 1912 - Zschopauer Maschinenfabrik J.S. Rasmussen
  • 1916 - Experiments with steam-driven vehicles continued until 1918
  • 1919 - The 25 cc miniature two-stroke engine ("Des Knaben Wunsch")
  • 1921 - Zschopauer Motorenwerke J.S. Rasmussen; the first auxiliary bicycle engine ("Das kleine Wunder")
  • 1922 - DKW trade mark registered for engines and motorcycles
  • 1923 - Zschopauer Motorenwerke J.S. Rasmussen AG established on December 22. Capital in 1924: 1 million RM, increased in 1929 to 10 million RM
  • 1928 - World's largest motorcycle manufacturer; start of car production
  • 1932 - 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

Production of DKW cars with front-wheel drive, 1937 (Type F7). The DKW "Fronts" were built at Audi`s Zwickau plant

The wooden bodies for the DKW models were built in Berlin-Spandau

In Spandau, the wooden bodies covered with imitation leather were produced for the DKW Front vehicles. Final assembly subsequently took place in Zwickau where the chassis and engines were built.

Central Testing Facility - wooden DKW bodies could withstand a great load
30 men on the roof of a DKW "Front Reichsklasse" Type F7. The photo was taken to demonstrate the strength of the DKW`s wooden coachwork.

At the end of the 30s, DKW was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world

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