Ferdinand Porsche, the brilliant engineer who helped create the first Volkswagen car and later founded the famed eponymous sports car maker, is born Sept. 3, 1875, in Maffersdorf, Austria. His father owned a plumbing workshop, where the younger Porsche apprenticed.
Unlike most automotive engineers, Porsche's career was amazingly diverse: cars, trucks, aircraft engines, tanks and other military vehicles, motorcycles and even windmills.
Porsche was just 11 years old when the automobile was invented. He was fascinated by electricity early on and at age 13 installed electric doorbells in the family home. At 16, he added electric lighting.
He was 18 when he landed a job at Bela Egger & Co., an electric company in Vienna, and enrolled as a part-time student at the Imperial Technical University in Reichenberg -- now the Vienna University of Technology.
The world's first hybrid car -- a vehicle powered by gasoline and electricity -- was created and engineered by Porsche.
With the development of the wheel-hub engine, Porsche stunned the fledgling auto industry at the Paris Salon in 1900 by introducing a vehicle that could be propelled by all four wheels: the world's first all-wheel-drive car. The engineering and construction principle behind the wheel-hub was employed by NASA 70 years later in the design of the lunar rover.
Russian dictator Joseph Stalin once invited Porsche to Moscow to dangle a job: the country's minister of technology. (Porsche turned it down because Russia lacked organized racing, one of his major passions.)
He was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army in 1902 and served as a chauffeur for Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination in 1914 set off World War 1.
In 1923, Porsche moved to Stuttgart to become technical director at Daimler, where he assumed responsibility for the development of the famous S, SS and SSK models while helping to develop trucks and engines.
The SSK, a supercharged machine, dominated European racing in the 1920s and is considered the first great performance car from Daimler-Benz.
When his contract expired, Porsche returned to Austria, where he worked as general director of Steyr. In 1931, Porsche went into business on his own, starting an independent design company in Stuttgart.
In 1934, Porsche began work on Adolf Hitler's "people's car" for the masses. While working on the project with his son, Ferdinand Anton Ernst Porsche — known as Ferry — he developed the first designs of what became the Volkswagen car, later known as the Beetle. But mass production of the Volkswagen was postponed because of war.
During World War II, Porsche and Ferry Porsche were tapped by Hitler to produce Tiger tanks. Porsche's prototype featured an advanced drive system that was an engineering marvel on paper but not on the battlefield.
Porsche and his son were arrested by French police for war crimes and their Nazi affiliation when the war ended in 1945. The elder Porsche served 22 months in prison.
With his father in prison, Ferry Porsche and an engineer, Karl Rabe, revisited the idea of a VW-based Porsche sports car in 1947.
The father-son team went on to make history in 1950, when they introduced the Porsche sports car.
Ferdinand Porsche died a year later of a stroke..