The most popular automobile in the world, the Volkswagen Type 1 Sedan, popularly known as the "Beetle," completely transcended its German roots, becoming an international phenomenon in the 1950s. The Volkswagen Sedan is remarkable for its formal consistency; its basic form has undergone relatively few changes since production began in 1938.
The design of the Volkswagen can be traced to the noted German automobile designer Ferdinand Porsche (1875-1951). By the early 1930s, Porsche had developed a prototype for an affordable "people's car" (the literal translation of Volkswagen). His challenge was to create an innovative design that was not simply a scaled-down large car. He explained, "By a 'people's car,' I understand only a completely practical vehicle that can compete with every other practical vehicle on equal terms. In my opinion, a fundamentally new approach is needed to turn 'normal vehicles' existing hitherto into 'people's cars.'" Porsche's design was based on aerodynamics research and an economical use of steel, and a rear-mounted, air-cooled engine contributed much to the car's success. Adolf Hitler seized the opportunity to develop the project, but few civilian models were produced before the Second World War, after which the Volkswagen corporation was reestablished. The design and engineering of the Volkswagen was modified, but the overall appearance resembled Porsche's design.
In 1959, the year of MoMA's Volkswagen Type 1 Sedan, the company produced 575,407 Sedans to meet a rising international demand. MoMA's "mignonette green" VW exhibits several features typical of the cars sold in America at the time, such as whitewall tires and "towel-rail" bumpers. This year also marked the beginning of a brilliant advertising campaign created by the New York firm Doyle Dane Bernbach, which poked fun at the odd, no-frills car with slogans such as "It's ugly, but it gets you there." Whereas in postwar Germany the Volkswagen was associated with lean and hard times, in America it was associated with fun, economy, youth, and independence.