On this day in auto history – May 4th

Tue 4th May 2021

It was on this day in 1948 that the death was announced of pioneering industrialist Wilhelm von Opel - one of the founders of the German carmaker Opel - at the age of 76.

His father Adam had founded the family firm in 1862 to originally manufacture sewing machines but, after his death, the company passed to his five sons, with Wilhelm instrumental in bringing Opel into automobile production after purchasing a small factory at Dessau.

Wilhelm is credited with introducing the assembly line to the German automobile industry, earning him the nickname of “Germany’s Henry Ford” and this new mass-production technique helped Opel snare a huge 37.5% domestic market share during the late 1920’s, as well as being the country’s biggest vehicle exporter.

American giants GM were so impressed by Opel’s modern production facilities that they bought a 100% stake in Opel in 1931, earning Wilhelm a significant share of the $33.3 million transaction.

Years later, Wilhelm was to earn some notoriety when it emerged that he had been a financial contributor to the Nazi party and a supporting member of Hitler’s regime.