The Holland America Westerdam pulled into New York Harbor from Rotterdam, Netherlands, on Jan. 17, 1949, carrying the seed of an automotive empire -- the Volkswagen Type 1, later known as the Beetle.
The original Beetle, billed as "The People's Car" because of its practical small size and value price, was created by Ferdinand Porsche and sparked a raft of imitators over time. It was Adolf Hitler, at the Berlin auto show in 1938, who introduced a prototype for a small, oddly shaped, inexpensive family car that became the Type 1 and then Beetle.
Ben Pon, a former race car driver from the Netherlands, was the first man to bring Volkswagens out of Germany. And he was determined to sell the Type 1 Beetle in America.
But anti-German sentiment -- four years after the end of World War II -- still ran high stateside. At a press conference aboard the Westerdam to introduce the Type 1, Pon referred to VW as the "Victory Wagon." According to Small Wonder: The Amazing Story of the Volkswagen, journalists dubbed the small, quirky vehicle "Hitler's car."
Pon met with dealers up and down the East Coast, all of whom turned him down. He ended up selling the Volkswagen model and its spare parts to pay for his room at the Roosevelt Hotel and returned to VW headquarters in Germany.
Volkswagen's managing director, Heinz Nordhoff, later tried unsuccessfully to hawk the brand to dealers. U.S. consumers, dealers argued, wanted big cars with powerful engines, not a small, underpowered car with a questionable heritage.
New York import dealer Max Hoffman in 1950 signed on as VW's exclusive distributor and agent for the U.S. east of the Mississippi River. Hoffman also was the distributor of other European makes, such as Jaguar, BMW and Porsche.
His Park Avenue showroom was legendary, and he managed to sell 157 Beetles.
Dealers found that they could get their hands on more popular marques if they agreed to take a few of Hoffman's VW models, too. But dealers soon discovered that the low-priced Volkswagens were better sellers than the higher-priced import brands.
The Type 1 was officially given the name "Beetle" in 1968.
Sparked by Beetlemania, it went on to become popular among U.S. suburbanites in postwar America and later a symbol of the counterculture of the 1960s.
On Feb. 17, 1972, Beetle No. 15,007,034 rolled off the assembly line, surpassing the record held by the Ford Model T for four decades as the top-selling car worldwide.
It was sold in the U.S. from 1950 to 1979 and revived and updated in 1998, with U.S. sales of the modern Beetle peaking at 83,434 in 1999.
But from the humble Beetle, Volkswagen has become one of the biggest automotive companies in the world, with brands that include Audi, Porsche, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Skoda and Seat.