The origin of the BMW logo has been a multi-faceted story, so allow us to dot the Is and cross the Ts

In March 2020, BMW unveiled its new logo, a flat, minimalistic version of the one it has been using since 1997. While the new design offers a cleaner version that strays away from the old-looking 3D effects and shadows, it is just the latest version of a logo that has been around since 1917 and one that triggered many controversies regarding its origin.

Inverted Bavarian flag or rotating propeller?

Correct answer: inverted Bavarian flag.

The rotating propeller myth came about in 1929, when a BMW ad showed an airplane with the BMW logo overlaying its rotating propeller.

The ad’s purpose was to promote a new aircraft engine BMW was assembling for Pratt & Whitney and the decision to mix the logo and the propeller came simply because the gimmick was 1) eye-pleasing and 2) according to BMW, it “fit very well into the advertising image of the young company, as it underlined the company’s roots and its expertise in aircraft construction.”

The Real Truth Behind The BMW Logo
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Of course, BMW never bothered to slash the myth or clear the air. What is more, it only fueled with another representation of its logo on top of a spinning propeller as seen in this 1942 image published in the company’s works magazine.

The Real Truth Behind The BMW Logo
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“For a long time, BMW made little effort to correct the myth that the BMW badge is a propeller. This interpretation has been commonplace for 90 years, so in the meantime it has acquired justification,” explains Fred Jakobs, archive director at BMW Group Classic.

So, where did the BMW logo come from?

You see, logos were not that popular back in the 1910s. In fact, the name BMW was included in the commercial register without a logo and in similar fashion, the first BMW ad lacked such a design element.

The Real Truth Behind The BMW Logo
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We know for sure that BMW’s logo was inspired by the Rapp Motorenwerke logo. And by inspired we mean that it adopted the black ring with the company’s name on it, surrounding a central symbol. That symbol was made of a circle with four quarters: two blue and two white, the colors of the State of Bavaria, where BMW is headquartered in Munich.

However, the colors appear in a reverse sequence on the BMW logo. The reason traces to the local trademark law at the time, which, according to the carmaker, “forbade the use of state coats of arms or other symbols of sovereignty on commercial logos.”

The Real Truth Behind The BMW Logo
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Oh, and in case you did not know, the BMW logo as we know it made its first appearance in real life in 1923, on the fuel tank of BMW’s first motorcycle, the R 32.

The Real Truth Behind The BMW Logo
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Tudor Rus
Tudor Rus
Assistant Content Manager - Automotive Expert - tudor@topspeed.com
Tudor’s first encounter with cars took place when he was only a child. Back then, his father brought home a Trabant 601 Kombi and a few years later, a Wartburg 353. At that time, he was too young to know how they worked and way too young to drive them, but he could see one thing – each of them had a different ethos and their own unique personality. As time went on, he started seeing that in other cars as well, and his love for the automobile was born.  Read full bio
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