DKW, the abbreviation of the German word for steam-driven vehicle (Dampfkraftwagen). It has also been interpreted as "Das kleine Wunder" ("the little wonder") and "Des Knaben Wunch" ("the boy''s wish").
Jorgen Skafte Rasmussen, a Dane by birth, established his first company in Saxony after studying Engineering in Mittweida. In 1904 he set up an apparatus engineering company in Chemnitz, three years later moving to Zschopau, in the Erzgebirge region, where he began to experiment with steam-driven motor vehicles in 1916.
Although these experiments did not lead to any specific product, they yielded the company name and trademark DKW, derived from the German words for "steam-driven vehicle" (Dampf Kraft Wagen).
In 1919, Rasmussen obtained the design of a two-stroke engine from Hugo Ruppe, a tiny version of which he sold as a toy engine under the name of "Des Knaben Wunsch", meaning "The Boy's Dream". This mini engine was subsequently upscaled and used as an auxiliary cycle engine, evolving into a fully-fledged motorcycle engine called "Das Kleine Wunder" (The Little Miracle" in 1922. Under the watchful eye of J. S. Rasmussen (together with manager Carl Hahn and chief designer Hermann Weber), DKW became the biggest motorcycle manufacturer in the world in the 1920s.
DKW also enjoyed a leading international position as an engine manufacturer.
In 1927, Rasmussen had acquired design and production facilities for six- and eight-cylinder engines from a Detroit automobile company which had been wound up. Two new Audi models powered by these engines appeared on the market. However, Rasmussen recognized the signs of the times and stepped up his activities in small cars. The very first DKW cars actually had rear-wheel drive and were built in Berlin-Spandau.
At the end of 1930, Rasmussen commissioned the Zwickau plant to develop a car having the following design features: a two-cylinder, two-stroke motorcycle engine with a swept volume of 600 cc, a unitary wooden chassis with leatherette upholstery, swing axles at the front and rear, and front-wheel drive.
The car which Audi designers Walter Haustein and Oskar Arlt came up with was given the name DKW Front. It was unveiled at the 1931 Berlin Motor Show, where it caused something of a sensation. The DKW Front was built at the Audi factory, and went on to become the most-produced, most popular German small car of its day.
(source: Audi AG)
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