Eine Woche in Volkswagenwerk, 1953

by James Kraus

VW bodies travel on overhead conveyor from paint shop to final assembly, Wolfsburg, Germany

In April of 1953, German photographer Peter Keetman (1916-2005) spent a week at the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg. Peter was a founding member of Fotoform, a group of German photographers whose work meshed abstraction with objectivity, often incorporating close-ups and repetition. The images resulting from the Volkswagen project eventually became some of his favourite and best known.

When Herr Keetman visited, VW was at a pivotal point in its history. The Beetle and the Type II Transporter/Microbus were the only two products Volkswagen produced. However, a third model, the Karmann Ghia, had been developed and was little more than a year from introduction. The Wolfsburg plant was still VW’s only automobile manufacturing facility, but their second European assembly plant (Hanover) was in the planning stage, and Volkswagen do Brazil was in the process of beginning pilot production.

The German Economic Miracle, in which the German economy rose from the ashes of WWII, was in full bloom in 1953. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer became Time Magazine’s Man of the Year. Volkswagen had just completed its first year of producing over 100,000 Beetles. By 1965, they would be routinely manufacturing over one million annually.

The Beetle itself still retained the WWII-era 1.1-litre engine, and just a few weeks prior to Peter’s visit, received its most dramatic aesthetic change since its inception. In March of ’53 the original split rear-window was replaced by a one-piece oval window that would remain a hallmark of the Beetle for the following four-and-a-half years.

Here is a selection of images from Peter’s week in Wolfsburg.

Roof Pressings. The roof stamping extended from below the windscreen aperture (visible above) to the engine air-inlet grille below the rear window.

Magnesium crankcase castings

Machined differential bevel gears

Chromed wheel covers

Front bumpers

Grinding finished body-weld seams

Fabrication of stamping comprising inner windshield surround and instrument panel

Freshly painted bodies head toward final assembly

Finished cars await transport. Notice the two-tone wheels. The wheel rims were painted to match the body color, while the centers were painted a contrasting color, often matching the interior

Finished Beetles display their new one-piece oval rear windows

Lids up: the fuel filler was located in the front luggage compartment until September 1967.

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3 thoughts on “Eine Woche in Volkswagenwerk, 1953

  1. Great work from a storied photographer. The “open boot lids” shot in particular is a superb composition.

  2. Pingback: burnedshoes: PHOTOBOOK: VOLKSWAGEN – A WEEK AT THE FACTORY… | Warehouse Careers

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