Ferdinand Porsche

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Ferdinand Porsche
Ferdinand Porsche

Ferdinand Porsche was born on the 3rd of September, 1875. Born as an Austro-Hungarian national, when independent Czechoslovakia was created in 1918, Ferdinand Porsche accepted Czechoslovak citizenship which he maintained even during his years in Vienna.

It was only towards the end of the 1930s that he received Austrian citizenship. His interest in all things technical can be traced back to his childhood. Obtaining his first technical education in Liberec, from an early age he showed excellent technical and mechanical skills and was fascinated by electricity.

When he was only fifteen years old he constructed a power distribution system in his parents' house. At the age of eighteen, Ferdinand Porsche was recommended for a job in Vienna. There he sneaked into night classes at the Technical University, to obtain some engineering education. His first success came when he designed an electric carriage for the Austrian coachbuilder Jacob Lohner.

In 1900, the Lohner-Porsche Electric Car made its debut at the Paris Exposition. Its wheel hub motors devised by Ferdinand Porsche, only 25-years old at that time, made the name Porsche famous worldwide. In the meantime, Ferdinand Porsche's two children were born, first his daughter Louisa, and five years later, in 1909, his son Ferdinand, later known as Ferry. Austro-Daimler (a licensee of the Stuttgart-based Daimler firm) hired Porsche in 1906 to be its chief designer, and in 1916, in the middle of the First World War, Porsche became the company's managing director.

A year later, Ferdinand Porsche received an honorary doctorate from the Vienna Technical University, the same institution where two decades earlier he had sneaked into night classes. However, the brilliant constructor disagreed with the Austro-Daimler's board on the future direction of its car production and he left for Stuttgart in 1923 to work for Daimler Motoren Gesellshaft as technical director.

His early work at Daimler earned him a second honorary degree, this time from the Stuttgart Technical University. In 1928, as Daimler technical director, Ferdinand Porsche developed the now legendary Mercedes SS and SSK supercharged sports car - the most powerful sports car of the time.

After Daimler merged with Benz in 1926, Porsche could not cope with the new company culture. Disappointed at the conservative nature of his employer, Porsche quit. In 1930 he decided to go independent and in 1931, Ferdinand Porsche launched his consulting office in Stuttgart, with his talented and hardworking son Ferry among the employees.

The 1930s, the years of the Great Depression, brought ups and downs for the Porsche family: times of near bankruptcy mixed with significant engineering successes. Also, the Second World War was looming and with it the destruction of the European economy. In the early part of the decade Porsche was preparing projects for an affordable people's car which would evolve into the world's most successful mass-produced model, the Volkswagen.

The project lay fallow until Germany's newly elected chancellor, Adolf Hitler, decided the country should produce a small car which every German could afford. In June 1934, the Third Reich signed a contract to build prototype Volkswagens. By the winter of 1936, three prototypes, the VW3, had been built in the backyard garages of the Porsches' villa. But the Second World War got in the way.

A jeep-like car was created on the basis of the type 60 instead. In 1944, allied bombing destroyed over half of the newly built plant. It was not until 1946 that the Volkswagen went into series production. While Ferdinand Porsche co-directed the plant together with a Nazi administrator, his son stayed in Stuttgart and ran the design business. Although Ferdinand Porsche is believed to have been politically na�ve, consumed with engineering, he was arrested after the war and charged with collaboration.

He was freed in 1947 after almost twenty months in prison. His health was poor. In the meantime, the Porsche firm did whatever it could to stay in business. It designed its own sports car, the first car to carry the name Porsche. Type 356 was the project number. One year after Ferdinand Porsche was released from prison, he witnessed the birth of the Porsche sports car. The very first Porsche, a hand-built aluminum prototype, was completed on June 8, 1948. Ferdinand Porsche died on January 30, 1952, from the effects of a stroke he had suffered earlier. He died after seeing his dream of a Porsche sports car become a reality.

Recommended Reading:
The House Of Porsche
The House of Porsche - A Pictorial History
Porsche Heritage
Porsche Car Reviews

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