Year
1950
Month Day
March 08

VW bus, icon of counterculture movement, goes into production

Volkswagen, maker of the Beetle automobile, expands its product offerings to include a microbus, which goes into production on March 8, 1950. Known officially as the Volkswagen Type 2 (the Beetle was the Type 1) or the Transporter, the bus was a favorite mode of transportation for hippies in the U.S. during the 1960s and became an icon of the American counterculture movement.

The VW bus was reportedly the brainchild of Dutch businessman Ben Pon, an importer of Beetles to the Netherlands, who saw a market for a small bus and in 1947 sketched out his concept. Volkswagen engineers further developed the idea and in March 1950, the vehicle, with its boxy, utilitarian shape and rear engine, went into production. The bus eventually collected a number of nicknames, including the “Combi” (for combined-use vehicle) and the “Splittie” (for its split windshield); in Germany it was known as the “Bulli.” In the U.S., it was referred to by some as a hippie van or bus because it was used to transport groups of young people and their camping gear and other supplies to concerts and anti-war rallies. Some owners painted colorful murals on their buses and replaced the VW logo on the front with a peace symbol. According to “Bug” by Phil Patton, when Grateful Dead musician Jerry Garcia died in 1995, Volkswagen ran an ad featuring a drawing of the front of a bus with a tear streaming down it.

The bus was only the second product offering for Volkswagen, a company whose history dates back to the 1930s Germany. In 1933, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany and announced he wanted to build new roads and affordable cars for the German people. At that time, Austrian-born engineer Ferdinand Porsche (1875-1951) was already working on creating a small car for the masses. Hitler and Porsche later met and the engineer was charged with designing the inexpensive, mass-produced Volkswagen, or “people’s car.” In 1938, work began on the Volkswagen factory, located in present-day Wolfsburg, Germany; however, full-scale vehicle production didn’t begin until after World War II.

In the 1950s, the Volkswagen arrived in the U.S., where the initial reception was tepid, due in part to the car’s historic Nazi connection as well as its small size and unusual rounded shape (which later led to it being dubbed the “Beetle”). In 1959, the advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach launched a groundbreaking campaign that promoted the car’s diminutive size as a distinct advantage to consumers, and over the next several years VW became the top-selling auto import in the U.S. In 1972, the VW Beetle passed the iconic Ford Model T as the world’s best-selling car, with over 15 million vehicles produced.

READ MORE: How the Vietnam War Empowered the Hippie Movement

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Malaysia Airlines flight vanishes with more than 200 people aboard

On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members, loses contact with air traffic control less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur then veers off course and disappears. Most of the plane, and everyone on board, are never seen ...read more

Egypt opens the Suez Canal

Following Israel’s withdrawal from occupied Egyptian territory, the Suez Canal is reopened to international traffic. However, the canal was so littered with wreckage from the Suez Crisis that it took weeks of cleanup by Egyptian and United Nations workers before larger ships ...read more

February Revolution begins, leading to the end of czarist rule in Russia

In Russia, the February Revolution (known as such because of Russia’s use of the Julian calendar) begins when riots and strikes over the scarcity of food erupt in Petrograd. One week later, centuries of czarist rule in Russia ended with the abdication of Nicholas II, and Russia ...read more

U.S. Marines land at Da Nang

The USS Henrico, Union, and Vancouver, carrying the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade under Brig. Gen. Frederick J. Karch, take up stations 4,000 yards off Red Beach Two, north of Da Nang. First ashore was the Battalion Landing Team 3/9, which arrived on the beach at 8:15 a.m. ...read more

Ali battles Frazier for heavyweight championship

On March 8, 1971, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier meet for the “Fight of the Century” at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The bout marked Ali’s return to the marquee three-and-a-half years after boxing commissions revoked his license over his refusal to fight in the Vietnam ...read more

Reagan refers to U.S.S.R. as “evil empire” again

Speaking to a convention of the National Association of Evangelicals in Florida on March 8, 1983, President Ronald Reagan publicly refers to the Soviet Union as an evil empire for the second time in his career. He had first used the phrase in a 1982 speech at the British House of ...read more

MTV’s highest rated series premieres

On March 8, 1993, the Music Television Network (MTV) airs the first episode of the animated series Beavis and Butt-Head, which will go on to become the network’s highest-rated series up to that point. Beavis and Butt-Head offered audiences rude and crude buddy humor in the ...read more

Mount Etna erupts

On March 8, 1669, Mount Etna, on the island of Sicily in modern-day Italy, begins rumbling. Multiple eruptions over the next few weeks killed more than 20,000 people and left thousands more homeless. Most of the victims could have saved themselves by fleeing, but stayed, in a ...read more

The Lonely Hearts Killers are executed

The Lonely Hearts Killers, aka Martha Beck and Raymond Martinez Fernandez, are executed in the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison in New York. The couple had schemed to seduce, rob and murder women who placed personal ads in newspapers. Beck and Fernandez boasted to killing as ...read more

Pennsylvania militiamen murder Patriot allies

On March 8, 1782, 160 Pennsylvania militiamen murder 96 Christian Indians–39 children, 29 women and 28 men–by hammering their skulls with mallets from behind as they kneel unarmed, praying and singing, in their Moravian Mission at Gnadenhutten in the Ohio Country. The Patriots ...read more

Dutch surrender on Java

Dutch forces surrender to the Japanese after two months of fighting. Java is an island of modern-day Indonesia, and it lies southeast of Malaysia and Sumatra, south of Borneo and west of Bali. The Dutch had been in Java since 1596, establishing the Dutch East India Company, a ...read more