source: Audi AG
Editor’s note: This article was originally written in German so please excuse any errors. The video at the end is also in German.
Logo? Logo! That is what Auto Union AG thought when it was founded almost 90 years ago. How four companies became four rings and a global brand, which later became AUDI AG. And why sand painting in logo design is so important:
“A logo is good when you can scratch it in the sand with your big toe.” These are the words of the famous graphic designer and typographer Kurt Weidemann (1922-2011). Simple and simple, but still memorable and ingenious – this could have been the reason for the requirement almost 90 years ago. Because: In 1932 the four companies Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer merged to form Auto Union AG, which would later become AUDI AG. And they needed a new logo. The four intertwined rings were born.
Four becomes one: the story of the four rings
All the way back to the beginning: The history of the Audi brand began with August Horch in the 19th century . The mechanical engineer started his own business in 1899 and founded the company August Horch & Cie. He first built two and later four-cylinder cars. In 1909 he left the company after differences with the board.
In the same year, Horch therefore founded a new car company. Because the name Horch was already taken and his use was forbidden, he translated his family name into Latin: “Audi”. In 1910 the first car of the new brand came onto the market. Audi garnered a lot of attention with its three successive victories in the International Austrian Alpine Ride between 1912 and 1914 – one of the toughest rallies of its time.
Four rings – four brands
Four intertwined rings symbolize the merger of the four Saxon automobile companies Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer and Auto Union AG. An overview of the roots of today’s AUDI AG.
Four intertwined rings symbolize the merger of the four Saxon automobile companies Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer into Auto Union AG. With its foundation, Auto Union AG was the second largest motor vehicle group in Germany. An overview of the roots of today’s AUDI AG.
The company, which was founded by August Horch in Zwickau on July 16, 1909, was no longer allowed to bear his name due to competition law reasons. You chose the name ‘audi!’ as a Latin translation of the word ‘horch!’. Since April 25, 1910, the second company founded by August Horch has operated under the name Audi Automobilwerke GmbH, Zwickau.
Originally founded in Chemnitz under the name Rasmussen & Ernst in 1902, the company moved its headquarters to Zschopau in the Ore Mountains in 1907. Evaporator oilers for steam power plants, fenders and vehicle lights, vulcanizing devices and all types of centrifuges were initially manufactured and sold. In 1916, company founder Jörgen Skafte Rasmussen started experiments on a steam car, the designation “DKW” of which he was later protected in 1922. The production of two-stroke engines started in 1919, initially in the form of a toy engine. In 1921 the company was renamed “Zschopauer Motorenwerke JS Rasmussen OHG”. A year later, the first motorcycles left the Zschopau plant under the DKW brand name.
At the end of the 19th century, there were already some companies in Germany that built automobiles. One of them was called August Horch & Cie., Founded in Cologne on November 14, 1899. August Horch was one of the pioneering engineers in automotive technology. Before starting his own business, he had, among other things, headed automotive engineering at Carl Benz in Mannheim for three years. In 1904 August Horch moved his company to Zwickau and converted it into a public limited company.
The two mechanics Johann Baptist Winklhofer and Richard Adolf Jaenicke have operated a bicycle repair shop in Chemnitz since 1885. A short time later, they began to build the then much sought-after two-wheelers themselves, which were soon sold under the brand name ‘Wanderer’. The company name had been Wanderer Fahrradwerke AG since 1896. The first motorcycle was built by Wanderer in 1902. The idea of expanding production to include automobiles was put into practice in 1913.
Auto Union AG, Chemnitz
On June 29, 1932, on the initiative of the Saxon State Bank, the Audiwerke, the Horchwerke and the Zschopauer Motorenwerke JS Rasmussen AG (DKW) merged to form Auto Union AG. At the same time, a purchase and lease agreement was signed with the Wanderer plants to take over the Wanderer automotive department. The new group was based in Chemnitz. With its foundation, Auto Union AG was the second largest motor vehicle group in Germany. The company logo showed four intertwined rings that symbolized the indissoluble unity of the four founding companies. The brand names Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer have been retained. Each of the four brands was assigned to a special market segment within the group: DKW – motorcycles and small cars; Wanderer – mid-range automobiles; Audi – automobiles in the upper middle class segment; Horch – luxury automobiles of the upper class.
A repair workshop for bicycles was the origin of the Wanderer company. Later she started building two-wheelers; first without, later with motor. In 1913 the company produced the first small car known as the “Puppchen”.
The fourth company was DKW, one of the largest motorcycle manufacturers of its time. The Danish company founder Jörgen Skafte Rasmussen started experiments on a steam car (DKW) in 1916. After the attempts were unsuccessful, Rasmussen began developing two-stroke engines. A few years later, DKW was the most important pre-war motorcycle manufacturer. From 1928, DKW also built automobiles.
The global economic crisis welds together: the Audi logo is created
Demand collapsed due to the Great Depression in 1929. The four car companies that had been successful up to then had financial difficulties. The solution was to merge the four brands, initiated by the Saxon State Bank. Auto Union AG was born, at that time the second largest car manufacturer in Germany, measured by the vehicles produced. From it emerged the predecessor of today’s AUDI AG.
How has the Audi logo developed?
When I merged into Auto Union, the four rings appeared as a symbol for the first time. The Audi brand name later came into focus: first in brown, then in red. From 1978, a black oval with white lettering shaped the appearance. The company and product have had the same name since 1985: Audi. In the 1990s, Ingolstadt concentrated again on the rings, but this time in a three-dimensional look.
The new challenge for designers has been for several years: The logo must not only look good on paper, but also online. That is why the trend is towards simplification. In 2016, the three-dimensional rings became two-dimensional.
A logo should be memorable and easy to recognize. Audi has achieved this with the world’s most famous rings, alongside the Olympic rings (created in 1913). Which, by the way, can really paint any child in the sand – in two or three dimensions.