In the movie Finding Forrester, two characters discuss the origins of Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW). One character says that his car, a BMW, is “more than just a car”, and receives a history lesson from the other. He discusses the origins of the company, naming Franz Popp as the founder. He goes on to mention the production of aircraft engines during World War One and Two, namely the BMW 801, a powerful engine used by the Luftwaffe in the later years of the war. This character also claims, “And if they had more time, they would’ve been bombing the shit out of England, and maybe even won the war.”
Though the scene then continues with an apocryphal origin of the company’s logo (“white propellers on a blue sky”) for cinematic purposes, the other statements about BMW are true. Franz Josef Popp was, indeed, one of three founders of the company and served as its First General Director from the interbellum period into World War Two. BMW was heavily involved in the German war effort, producing aircraft, motorcycle, and automobile engines. This was done through the utilization of slave labor under the Nazi regime. After the wars, BMW was disallowed from producing engines which could be used for military operations. In the case of World War One, the production resumed in the 1930s. After World War Two, BMW would cease to produce aircraft engines and not return to automobile or motorcycle engine construction until the end of the 1940s and early 1950s. Before this resumed, the company survived on supplying kitchenware and survived attempts at acquisition from competitors.
The company, to its credit, has not shied from its dark past, going so far as to proclaim its regrets during celebrations of the BMW centennial in 2016. BMW’s survival as a company is impressive, and likely the best possible scenario for a defeated country’s national champions.