Year
1944

Volkswagen halts production during World War II

On this day in 1944, under the threat of Allied bombing during World War II, the German car manufacturer Volkswagen halts production of the “Beetle,” as its small, insect-shaped automobile was dubbed in the international press.

Ten years earlier, the renowned automotive engineer Ferdinand Porsche had signed a contract with Germany’s Third Reich to develop a prototype of a small, affordable “people’s car.” The German chancellor, National Socialist (Nazi) leader Adolf Hitler, called the car the KdF (Kraft-durch-Freude)-Wagen(or “Strength-Through-Joy” car), after a Nazi-led movement ostensibly aimed at helping the working people of Germany. Porsche didn’t like that moniker; he preferred Volkswagen (meaning “people’s car”), the name under which the car had originally been developed. In 1938, the government built a factory to produce the car in the city of KdF-stat. The first production-ready Beetle debuted at the Berlin Motor Show in 1939. Several months later, Germany invaded Poland, sparking the conflict that would explode into world war.

During the war years, the German army’s need for a lightweight utility vehicle took precedence over the production of affordable passenger cars. The result was the Type 62 Kubelwagen, a convertible vehicle with a modified Beetle chassis, four doors and 18-inch wheels (compared with the Beetle’s 16-inch ones) to give it better ground clearance. Though production at the KdF-stat factory was dedicated primarily to the Kubelwagen and its amphibious counterpart, the Schwimmwagen, the factory did continue to produce Beetles from 1941 to August 7, 1944, when production was halted under threat of Allied bombing.

In the war’s aftermath, a devastated Germany was divided into four sectors. Those under British, French and American control would combine to form West Germany, while the region under Soviet control became East Germany. KdF-stat (soon renamed Wolfsburg), which was in the British sector, and its auto factory remained in relatively good shape for having been a target of Allied bombs. Volkswagen, then under the control of the British military, began turning out Beetles again in December 1945. By 1949, the company (now called Volkswagen GmbH) was back in German hands, and in 1972 the Beetle passed the iconic Ford Model T as the top-selling car in history.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

U.S. satellite photographs earth

From the Atlantic Missile Range in Cape Canaveral, Florida, the U.S. unmanned spacecraft Explorer 6 is launched into an orbit around the earth. The spacecraft, commonly known as the “Paddlewheel” satellite, featured a photocell scanner that transmitted a crude picture of the ...read more

U.S. embassies in East Africa bombed

At 10:30 a.m. local time, a massive truck bomb explodes outside the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Minutes later, another truck bomb detonated outside the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam, the capital of neighboring Tanzania. The dual terrorist attacks killed 224 people, including ...read more

Trapped Russian sub rescued

On this day in 2005, a Russian Priz AS-28 mini-submarine, with seven crew members on board, is rescued from deep in the Pacific Ocean. On August 4, the vessel had been taking part in training exercises in Beryozovaya Bay, off the coast of Russia’s far-eastern Kamchatka ...read more

Wood raft makes 4,300-mile voyage

On this day in 1947, Kon-Tiki, a balsa wood raft captained by Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl, completes a 4,300-mile, 101-day journey from Peru to Raroia in the Tuamotu Archipelago, near Tahiti.Heyerdahl wanted to prove his theory that prehistoric South Americans could ...read more

U.S. forces invade Guadalcanal

On this day in 1942, the U.S. 1st Marine Division begins Operation Watchtower, the first U.S. offensive of the war, by landing on Guadalcanal, one of the Solomon Islands.On July 6, 1942, the Japanese landed on Guadalcanal Island and began constructing an airfield there. Operation ...read more

Tonkin Gulf Resolution is passed

The U.S. Congress passes Public Law 88-408, which becomes known as the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, giving President Johnson the power to take whatever actions he deems necessary to defend Southeast Asia including “the use of armed force.”The resolution passed 82-2 in the Senate, ...read more

Lynne Cox swims into communist territory

On this day in 1987, Lynne Cox braves the freezing waters of the Bering Strait to make the first recorded swim from the United States to the Soviet Union.Lynne Cox’s swimming career began in her native New Hampshire when she was just nine years old. Not long after that, her ...read more

Bush orders Operation Desert Shield

On this day in 1990, President George Herbert Walker Bush orders the organization of Operation Desert Shield in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait on August 2. The order prepared American troops to become part of an international coalition in the war against Iraq that would be ...read more

Astronomer impresses Indians with eclipse

George Davidson, a prominent astronomer and explorer, impresses Alaskan Native Americans with his ability to predict a total solar eclipse.A native of Nottingham, England, Davidson immigrated to the United States in 1832. He went to school in Philadelphia, where he proved to be a ...read more

Henry Fielding leaves London for Lisbon

On this day in1754, novelist Henry Fielding leaves London for Lisbon seeking a healthier climate. Fielding had suffered from ill health for some time, but his trip to Lisbon fails to ease his condition. He dies there two months later. Fielding dropped out of Eton at age 17 and ...read more

Actress Charlize Theron born

On this day in 1975, the actress Charlize Theron, known both for her lithe blonde beauty (she was named 2007’s “Sexiest Woman of the Year” by Esquire magazine) and serious acting chops (she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for 2003’s Monster), is born in Benoni, South ...read more

Mysterious explosions in Colombia

Seven army ammunition trucks explode in Cali, Colombia, killing more than 1,000 people and injuring thousands more on this day in 1956. The cause of the explosions remains a mystery.The previous day, 20 trucks fully loaded with dynamite departed the Colombian city of ...read more

Georgia institutes a State Board of Corrections

Concerned with its reputation in light of recent revelations about inhumane prison conditions, Georgia changes its constitution to set up a State Board of Corrections. The board was directed to be more humane in its treatment of prisoners and abolished whippings, leg irons, and ...read more

Congress passes Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

The United States Congress overwhelming approves the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving President Lyndon B. Johnson nearly unlimited powers to oppose “communist aggression” in Southeast Asia. The resolution marked the beginning of an expanded military role for the United States in ...read more

Confederate General Evander Law is born

Confederate General Evander Law is born in Darlington, South Carolina. Law had a distinguished career in the Confederate army and earned a reputation as a brave and effective field commander.Law, who attended the Citadel and studied law after his graduation, built a prewar career ...read more