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lunes, marzo 20, 2006

VW ~ Major Ivan Hirst’s ninetieth birthday

Major Ivan Hirst’s ninetieth birthday.

The British Major and the Factory

Volkswagen AG commemorates Ivan Hirst and
its British roots.

Wolfsburg March 2006 – Had he been alive, Ivan Hirst would have
celebrated his 90th birthday on 1 March 2006. 60 years ago as a
young British major he laid the foundation for Volkswagen’s
success. In honour of the occasion, historian Ralf Richter of
Göttingen’s Georg-August University gave a talk on British officer
Ivan Hirst and outlined the period during which the Volkswagen
plant was under the British government’s management. Richter was
the first recipient of the Ivan Hirst Prize awarded by Volkswagen.
Following a stay at Oxford, Richter came out with a biography of the
British major.

“We were just the trustees”, stressed Ivan Hirst every time he was asked
in interviews about his activity at Volkswagen in the early postwar years.
He saw himself as a trustee temporarily responsible for looking after
someone else’s property. In actual fact, the officer of the Royal Electrical
and Mechanical Engineers Corps (REME) – which was responsible for
the maintenance and repair of technical equipment – paved the way for
Volkswagen to progress from what was in 1945/46 an operation with an
uncertain future to become an exceedingly successful commercial
enterprise playing a key role in Germany’s Wirtschaftswunder or
economical miracle of the 1950s.

Born in 1916 the son of a family that owned a watch factory near
Manchester, Ivan Hirst got to know everyday factory life at an early age,
and also developed a passion for cars. He studied Optical Engineering
Science in Manchester, in the course of which he joined an officer’s
training camp organized by the university. He knew about Germany by
way of his family’s business connections as well as a semester he spent

Hirst subsequently went to Germany with the REME Corps, and in early
August 1945 the 29 year-old major was assigned to head the Volkswagen
Plant for the Allies. On 22 August an order came in for 20,000
Volkswagen saloons; this heralded the start of a new era for the factory
situated on the eastern fringe of the British occupied zone.

Hirst soon became very popular with the Volkswagen employees, as
reflected in the lavish birthday card he received from them in 1946. He
was seen by the people there as representing the hopes of a perspective,
both for themselves personally as well as for the factory. “Hirst was a
pragmatist”, is historian Richter’s assessment. “He was a highly motivated
man of extraordinary capabilities, and he virtually lived for Volkswagen.”
And that was reassuring for all concerned.

In the interests of making Volkswagen capable of competing and
establishing itself in the world market, the British developed and put in
place a quality policy, ensured a tightly knit sales and service network,
enabled free elections for workforce representatives in November 1945
and gave Volkswagen its first chances for export activity. In his function
as trustee, Hirst made it his objective to put the revived factory back into
German hands at the earliest possible moment. On 8 October 1949 the
British military government handed the trusteeship to the federal
government and commissioned the federal state of Lower Saxony with
the administration. Volkswagen went into the fast lane.

Hirst initially continued his professional career after 1949 with the British
army before leaving to work for the Organization for European Economic
Cooperation (OEEC) in 1955. In 1976 he retired from working life and,
until his death in March 2000, lived in the vicinity of the town in which he
was born, namely Oldham near Manchester.

Since then, Volkswagen AG Historical Communications has been
awarding the Ivan Hirst Prize in commemoration of the trustee and
company manager to young scientists involved with the topic of
automobility. Ralf Richter, who gave the lecture, was the first winner of
this award. His scholarly biography of the British officer who put
Volkswagen on course for the future is entitled “Ivan Hirst – British Officer
and Manager of Volkswagen’s Postwar Recovery” and published by the
Historical Communications department as part of the Historical Notes
series. It is available in German and English.



(Info VW AG)

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