It's been a little over 100 years since the letters BMW finally made their public appearance, representing some of the best driver's cars the world has seen. The history of BMW goes quite a way back, and has roots with Rapp Motorenwerke, an aircraft engine manufacturer which was established in 1913 by Karl Rapp. Surely the BMW's roots in aircraft means that the logo reflects some sort of aeronautical design? Not quite, and a recent article by BMW goes into detail.
The name BMW, Bayerische Motoren Werke or Bavarian Motor Works, dates back to 1917, emerging from the renaming of said aircraft engine manufacturer Rapp Motorenwerke. At the time, high demand for their successful aircraft engines for military applications put them on the map, and allowed for a rapid expansion of manufacturing plants and industrial capabilities. Interestingly, at this time, there was no official logo for BMW, but the technology to create engines for other applications such as automobiles, boats, and motorcycles was readily available. According to Fred Jakobs, Archive Director of BMW Group Classic, “The logo and the meaning of the symbol weren’t really in the limelight in the early days. In those first few years, BMW just wasn’t present in the public consciousness.”
In late 1917, BMW would receive their first logo, and it bore similarities to the Rapp emblem; the outer ring of the symbol was now bounded by two gold lines and bore the letters BMW. Here's the kicker: the company's home state of Bavaria is represented on the logo by the quarters of the inner circle. The state colors of Bavaria, which are white and blue, are placed in an inverse order, and read clockwise from top to left. The reason for that inverse order of the colors was that the local trademark laws at that time forbade the use of state coat of arms or other symbols of sovereignty on commercial logos.
So how did the myth of the propeller reference come about? Several ads depicted the BMW letters on airplane propellers, and these ads were meant to not just promote their engines, but also underline their roots and expertise in aircraft construction. The thing is, no one really bothered to say anything. “For a long time, BMW made little effort to correct the myth that the BMW badge is a propeller,” explains Fred Jakobs. So the misconception went on all this time, and has become a bit of misplaced common knowledge. Huh, the more you know.