BMW Myth Exposed!
So we were wrong. In a recent press release about Mustang’s new replacement seats for BMW’s R nineT motorcycles, we inadvertently characterized the BMW logo as having aviation roots, just like Mustang’s own P-51 aircraft references. Great point of reference for a press release, only problem is that it has nothing to do with the truth! Appropriately for a seat company here now is the full CYA on the BMW logo:
Ranked in the top 10 of the world’s most recognized commercial logos — along with the likes of Coke bottle and the Nike ‘swoosh’ — BMW’s iconic roundel has certainly stood the test of time… however the endearing myth of the spinning propeller logo that Mustang (and any number of others have bought into) has been busted! We weren’t the only ones hoodwinked, though. No less authorities than the New York Times and even BMW North America have subscribed to the popular propeller tale!
The spin on BMW’s signature roundel is that it looks like a propeller blade set against a blue sky and white clouds. According to the New York Times auto editor, “The design was supposedly a tribute to the roots of Bayerische Motoren Werke (or Bavarian Motor Works in English) in the early 20th century, when the company built aircraft engines.”
Apparently the blue-and-white company logo does NOT represent a spinning propeller, rather it is meant to depict the colors of the Free State of Bavaria. Back in 2010, the Times followed up on this with a company spokesman for BMW North America, who said, “the shape and configuration of the roundel was meant to replicate a spinning propeller against a blue sky background.”
However a week later, Tom Plucinsky, another BMW spokesman, told the New York Times this was not the case, even though the company itself once thought the logo was based on a propeller! “In fact, I have an old history book here that says it is,” claimed Plucinsky. “But this all changed in the past year, with the clarification that the roundel was used in an advertisement next to an airplane. The design was not in any way connected with aircraft engines or propellers. The idea that the blue and white had anything to do with spinning propellers comes from a 1929 advertisement, which featured aircraft with the image of the roundel in the rotating propellers.”
The truth behind the propeller myth is almost as interesting, but much less convenient for Mustang PR people! It seems that in July 1917, Franz Josef Popp registered the name Bayerische Motoren Werke in an attempt to distance the new company from his former operation: Rapp Motorenwerke aero engine company. According to BMW Motorcycle Magazine, the signature BMW trademark was registered with the Imperial Trade Mark Roll on October 5, 1917. It featured the circular design of the Rapp logo but with the letters “BMW” at the top. The inner quadrants featured the Bavarian Free State colors of blue and white – but in the opposite order because it was illegal to use national symbols in a commercial trademark.
“The design was not in any way connected with aircraft engines or propellers,” the BMW magazine categorically states. “The idea that the blue and white had anything to do with spinning propellers comes from a 1929 advertisement, which featured aircraft with the image of the roundel in the rotating propellers. This advertisement came at the beginning of the Great Depression, which coincided with BMW acquiring the license to build Pratt & Whitney radial aircraft engines. The advertising department used the roundel and BMW heritage in an attempt to increase sales of the new radial motors.”
PR guys putting a convenient spin on the facts to huckster product sales? Say it ain’t so, Franz Josef! But it get worse… The idea of the spinning propellers was given greater credence in a 1942 BMW journal article written by Wilhelm Farrenkopf in a BMW journal of 1942. “This also featured an image of an aircraft with a spinning roundel,” notes BMW MC mag. “These were powerful images and thus the legend of the spinning propeller was born.”
The basic structure of the BMW roundel has remained essentially the same for nearly 95 years. In the original design, the lettering and outline was in gold, but by the time the first BMW R32 motorcycle was released in 1923, it had changed slightly. The letters were still in gold, but the font was bolder and letters closer together. This was the style that was submitted to the German Register of Trade Marks in 1933, and the international register of trademarks in 1934.
Over the years, proportions changed, the shade of blue shifted, and even the lettering would change from gold, white or silver with serif or sans-serif fonts in different sizes. “There appears to be no reason for this variance except for product designers and marketing and communication staff using personal choice depending on application,” adds BMW MC.
“Through the 1950s there was a more concerted effort to standardize the roundel. The use of white lettering was now standard and when used on cars and motorcycles it was silver. By the 1960s the serif font was replaced by sans-serif, and this was used on all motorcycles by 1966.”
So as convenient as the non-existent connection to the BMW roundel may have been, we sincerely apologize for perpetuating the myth. We meant no attempt at revisionist history or conspiracy to promote Pratt & Whitney radial aircraft engine sales under BMW license! We just wanted a way to launch the news that Mustang now has seats for the R nineT…
But if you really take a close look at it, that roundel could be a stylized propeller with blue sky and white clouds behind it, couldn’t it?