The first Volkswagen cars originated out of a need for a publicity stunt. Adolf Hitler needed something to garner the public trust, and he realized the German Dream: efficient public transportation. But how could he accomplish this? To begin with, he needed someone to design cars that would accomplish his goal of going up to 60 miles an hour and still costing under 1000 marks (about 250 dollars). To find such a person, he called for the very best automobile makers to submit their plans to him. Most people felt that the order was near impossible, and no one was able to submit plans. Then, less than a year later, Hitler gave a speech. With a purple face, he detailed his plans for a series of autobahns running through Germany with cars for everyone to drive.
Soon after the speech, Ferdinand Porsche, who had been chief designer for Daimler-Benz, Auto-Union, and now had his own engineering consultation firm, was summoned to see Hitler. He was demanded to have Hitler's dream cars ready within ten months, with the cooperation of the German Automobile Association. Essentially, Hitler was manipulating the entire industry into producing his car for him. Though he was unable to pull through with such a car until 13 years after the war had ended, Porsche still gave valuable designs and information over to Hitler, and until his death Hitler used the new brand of cars that he christened Volkswagen (the peoples' car) as a cash cow, a public icon, and an army.
Pictures of VW's models from WWII
Brief synopsis of the beginning of Volkswagen
Lengthy analysis of the role of VW in WWII
Answers to commonly asked questions about VW's role in WWII