Ferdinand Porsche (3 September 1875 – 30 January 1951) was an automotive engineer and founder of the Porsche car company. He is best known for creating the first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle (Lohner-Porsche), the Volkswagen Beetle, the Mercedes-Benz SS/SSK, and several Porsche automobiles. In addition, Porsche designed the 1923 Benz Tropfenwagen, which was the first race car with a mid-engine, rear-wheel drive layout. Porsche was an important contributor to the German war effort during World War II. He was involved in the production of advanced tanks, such as the Tiger I, Tiger II, Elefant, andPanzer VIII Maus, as well as other weapon systems, such as the V-1 flying bombs. He was arecipient of the German National Prize for Art and Science, the SS-Ehrenring, and the War Merit Cross. In 1996, Porsche was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and in 1999 posthumously won the award of Car Engineer of the Century.
Ferdinand Porsche was born to German-speaking parents in Maffersdorf, northern Bohemia, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at that time, and today part of the Czech Republic. He showed a strong aptitude for mechanical work at a very early age. He attended classes at the Imperial Technical School in Reichenberg at night while helping his father in his mechanical shop by day. Thanks to a referral, Porsche landed a job with the Béla Egger Electrical company in Vienna when he turned 18. In Vienna he would sneak into the local university whenever he could after work. Other than attending classes there, Porsche never received any higher engineering education. During his five years with Béla Egger, Porsche first developed the electric hub motor.
In 1898, Porsche joined the Vienna-based factory Jakob Lohner & Company, which produced coaches for Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria as well as for the kings of England, Sweden, and Romania. Jakob Lohner had begun construction of automobiles in 1896 under Ludwig Lohner in the trans-Danubian suburb of Floridsdorf. Their first design was the Egger-Lohner vehicle (also referred to as the C.2 Phaeton). First unveiled in Vienna, Austria, on June 26, 1898, Porsche had engraved the code "P1" (standing for Porsche, number one, signifying Ferdinand Porsche's first design) onto all the key components.
Still employed by Lohner, Porsche introduced the "Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid" in 1901. This is the first petroleum electric hybrid vehicle on record, although since sufficiently reliable gears and couplings were not available at the time, he chose to make it a series-hybrid, an arrangement now more common in diesel-electric or turbo-electric railway locomotives than in automobiles.
In 1906, Austro-Daimler recruited Porsche as their chief designer. Porsche's best known Austro-Daimler car: Modell 27/80; was designed for the Prince Henry Trial in 1910. Porsche had advanced to Managing Director by 1916 and received the honorary doctorate degree, "Dr. techn h.c." from the Vienna University of Technology in 1916, hence the "Dr. Ing h.c" in his name, meaning "Doktor Ingenieur Honoris Causa". Porsche successfully continued to construct racing cars, winning 43 out of 53 races with his 1922 design. In 1923, Porsche left Austro-Daimler after differences ensued about the future direction of car development. A few months later Porsche was given new job as Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft's Technical Director in Stuttgart, Weimar Germany, which was already a major center for the German automotive industry. In 1924 received another honorary doctorate from the Stuttgart Technical University for his work at Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft in Stuttgart and was later given the honorary title Professor. He left in 1929 for Steyr Automobile, but the Great Depression brought about Steyr's economic collapse and Porsche ended up being unemployed.
In April 1931 Porsche founded his consulting firm. Their first project was the design of a middle class car for Wanderer. Other commissioned designs followed. As the business grew, Porsche decided to work on his own design as well, which happened to be a reincarnation of the small car concept from his days at Daimler-Benz in Stuttgart. He financed the project with a loan on his life insurance. With car commissions low in the depressed economic climate, Porsche founded a subsidiary company Hochleistungs Motor GmbH (High Performance Engines Ltd.) in 1932 to develop a racing car, for which he had no customer. In June 1934, Porsche received a contract from Hitler to design a "people's car" (or Volkswagen), following on from his previous designs such as the 1931 Type 12 car designed for Zündapp. The first two prototype cars were completed in 1935. These were followed by several further pre-production batches during 1936 to 1939. Since being engaged by the Nazi authorities in building the Volskauto, Porsche was praised as the Great German Engineer. By 1938, Porsche was using the SS as security members and drivers at his factory, and later set up a special unit called SS Sturmwerk Volkswagen. Mass production of the car, which later became known as the Beetle, began after the end of the war.
On 15 December 1945, French authorities arrested Porsche, Anton Piëch, and Ferry Porsche as war criminals. While Ferry was soon set free, Ferdinand and Anton were held in a Dijon prison for 20 months without trial. The innovative 4WD design never raced, but the money it received was used to redeem Ferdinand Porsche from prison.
The company also started work on a new design, the Porsche 356, the first car to carry the Porsche brand name. The company then was located in Gmünd in Carinthia, where they had relocated from Stuttgart to avoid Allied bombing. The company started manufacturing the Porsche 356 in an old saw mill in Gmünd. They made only 49 cars, which were built entirely by hand.
The Porsche family returned to Stuttgart in 1949 not knowing how to restart their business. When Ferry Porsche resurrected the company he counted on series production figures of about 1,500. More than 78,000 Porsche 356s were manufactured in the following 17 years.Porsche was later contracted by Volkswagen for additional consulting work and received a royalty on every Volkswagen Type I (Beetle) car manufactured. This provided Porsche with a comfortable income as more than 20 million Type I were built. A few weeks later, Porsche suffered a stroke. He did not fully recover, and died on 30 January 1951.
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