Last spring I read a cool and not so small book called Think­ing Small by Andrea Hiott. It’s the his­to­ry of the Volk­swa­gen bug. Some of you may recall that I am the proud own­er of a very rusty, then in the garage for a clutch prob­lem, now wait­ing for its bat­tery to be recharged, 1973 Volk­swa­gen Super Bee­tle. I love my car! It’s been the per­fect small car for me, and the only one I’ve owned in the near­ly 40 years I’ve lived in America.

What did I learn from read­ing this book? My car was designed by Fer­di­nand Porsche – I actu­al­ly own a Porsche! 

Many Amer­i­cans imme­di­ate­ly say ‘Hitler’s car’ when speak­ing about the his­to­ry of the VW bug. How­ev­er, much as Porsche seems to have been fund­ed by Hitler he appears nev­er to have suc­cumbed to being a Nazi. Appar­ent­ly as a design­er of cars he was one of the few peo­ple that Hitler actu­al­ly respected. 

Sev­er­al oth­ers influ­enced the post World War II suc­cess of the VW bug includ­ing a cou­ple of Brits who were ‘in charge’ of that part of the divid­ed Ger­many in the ear­ly post war peri­od. A Ger­man, Her­mann Munch, then took over and proved capa­ble of rebuild­ing the Volk­swa­gen fac­to­ry in Wolfs­burg. Lat­er Carl Hahn was des­ig­nat­ed the per­son to car­ry the ban­ner in America.

Think­ing Small is such a fas­ci­nat­ing book from an his­tor­i­cal stand­point. It explains so much of what was hap­pen­ing both in Europe and Amer­i­ca in the lat­ter part of the 19th Cen­tu­ry and in the 20th Century.

There are many over­lap­ping inter­ests includ­ed in this book – when I start­ed the notes for this blog post I was just reach­ing the part about the era of inno­v­a­tive ad design. The first VW ad in Amer­i­ca! My old­est son and I fre­quent­ly dis­cuss whether or not an ad func­tions, why road sig­nage doesn’t always work (called ‘Wayfinding’ – par­tic­u­lar­ly notice­able when you can’t find your way!), why menus in places like Star­bucks or the fast food chains are so hard to read while you are in the queue, and many oth­er relat­ed top­ics and projects our fam­i­ly has long been inter­est­ed and involved in. 

So think about what you know about Volk­swa­gen and its his­to­ry – then read the book Think­ing Small and let your mind be opened to the world of the VW bug and some oth­er great inno­va­tions of the 20th Century.