The Audi four-ring emblem symbolises the merger in 1932 of four previously independent motor-vehicle manufacturers: Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer. In 1969 Auto Union GmbH amalgamated with NSU Motorenwerke AG. Here are brief details of the roots of today’s AUDI AG:
At the end of the 19th century, there were already a number of car manufacturers in Germany. One of them was August Horch & Cie., founded on November 14, 1899 in Cologne. August Horch was one of the pioneering figures in automobile engineering. Before setting up in business on his own, his professional experience had included three years in charge of automobile production at Carl Benz in Mannheim. In 1904, August Horch moved his business to Zwickau and transformed it into a joint-stock company. However, as early as 1909, August Horch left the company he had founded. From then on, his activities were linked with the name 'Audi'.
The company established by August Horch in Zwickau on July 16, 1909 could not take its founder's name for competition reasons. A new name was found for the company by translating Horch’s name, which in German means "hark!" or "listen!", into Latin. The second company established by August Horch therefore commenced trading as Audi Automobilwerke GmbH, Zwickau on April 25, 1910.
In 1885 two mechanics, Johann Baptist Winklhofer and Richard Adolf Jaenicke, opened a bicycle repair workshop in Chemnitz. Shortly afterwards they began to make bicycles of their own, since demand at that time was very high. These were marketed under the brand name Wanderer, and in 1896 the company itself began to trade as Wanderer Fahrradwerke AG. Wanderer built its first motorcycle in 1902. The idea of branching out into car production was finally put into practice in 1913. A small two-seater by the name of "Puppchen" heralded in Wanderer's tradition of car production that was to last for several decades.
Originally founded in Chemnitz in 1902 as Rasmussen & Ernst, the company moved to Zschopau in the Erzgebirge region in 1907. It initially manufactured and sold exhaust-steam oil separators for steam power plants, vehicle mudguards and lights, vulcanisation equipment and centrifuges of all kinds. The company's founder Jörgen Skafte Rasmussen began to experiment with a steam-driven motor vehicle in 1916, registering DKW (short for Dampfkraftwagen – steam-driven vehicle) as a trademark. In 1919 the company, by now renamed Zschopauer Motorenwerke, switched to the manufacture of small two-stroke engines, which from 1922 onwards served as a springboard for its success in building motorcycles under the brand name DKW. The first small DKW motor car appeared on the market in 1928.
On 29 June 1932, Audiwerke, Horchwerke and Zschopauer Motorenwerke/DKW merged on the initiative of the State Bank of Saxony to form Auto Union AG. A purchase and leasing agreement was concluded at the same time with Wanderer for the takeover of its motor vehicle division. The new company's head offices were in Chemnitz. Following the merger, Auto Union AG was the second-largest motor vehicle manufacturer in Germany. The company emblem consisted of four interlocking rings, intended to symbolise the inseparable unity of the four founder companies. The Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer brand names were retained. Each of the four brands was assigned a specific market segment within the group: DKW – motorcycles and small cars; Wanderer – midsize cars; Audi – cars in the deluxe midsize segment; and Horch – luxury cars at the top end of the market.
In 1945, after the end of the Second World War, Auto Union AG found itself in the Soviet occupied zone of Germany and was expropriated by the occupying Soviet forces. A number of the company's senior managers departed for Bavaria, where a new company under the name of Auto Union GmbH was founded in 1949 in Ingolstadt, upholding the motor-vehicle tradition of the four rings. The first vehicles bearing the four-ring emblem to leave the company's production lines after its new start were well-proven DKW products with two-stroke engines – motorcycles, cars and delivery vans.
A new Auto Union model appeared on the market in 1965, the company's first post-war vehicle with a four-stroke engine. Along with this dawning of a new era, it was felt that the time was ripe for a new product designation. The traditional Audi name was therefore revived. A short time later, the last two-stroke DKWs left the production line in Ingolstadt. From then on, the new models with four-stroke engines were produced under the brand name "Audi". A new era had begun in another sense, too: the Volkswagen Group acquired the Ingolstadt-based company in 1965.
Audi history: the “Four Rings” as book or e-journal.