Simson was a German company which produced firearms, automobiles, motorcycles, and mopeds. Under Nazi rule, the factory was seized from the Jewish Simson family, and was renamed several times under Nazi and later Communist control. The Simson name was reintroduced as a brand name for mopeds made at the factory in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). Simson mopeds were produced in Suhl (Germany) until 2002. The most popular model is the Simson Schwalbe.
In 1854 the brothers Löb and Moses Simson bought one third of a steelhammer works in Suhl (Germany). The production of carbon steel began and the firm Simson & Co. was founded in 1856. The factory produced guns and gunbarrels in the years following.
In 1871 the first steam engine started its service and the enterprise established production of bicycles in 1896, which was followed by the start of automobile production in 1907. The racing car Simson Supra is famous.
During World War I, Simson produced Mauser Gewehr 98 rifles for the German Army. In the aftermath of the war and the Treaty of Versailles, the reorganized Reichswehr was allowed to buy new handguns from only one company, so as to limit the ability of the German arms industry to recover. Larger manufacturers such as DWM were passed over in favor of Simson precisely because of its lower production capacity, and as such Simson was the sole producer of military-contract Luger pistols from 1925 to 1934. Simson produced approximately 12,000 Lugers during this timeframe. Simson also was responsible for repairing and refurbishing existing firearms of the Reichswehr, though DWM was employed in the capacity as well, in contravention of the Treaty of Versailles. In addition to Lugers, Simson also repaired and refurbished Gewehr 98 and Karabiner 98b rifles, MG08 machine guns, and MP18 submachine guns.
During the 1920s, Simson also produced .25 ACP vest pocket pistols, or Westentaschenpistolen, for commercial sale. Until 1989, this was Simson's only venture into commercial handgun production. These pistols were available in two almost identical models, the first known as Model 1 in German and Model 1922 in the United States, and the second as Model 2 in Germany and Model 1927 in the US.
They produced a line of sporting automobiles from 1911 until 1933, with the name changed from Simson to Simson-Supra in 1924. The hand-built models starting at that time and designed by Paul Henze were particularly noteworthy.
Adolf Hitler's dictatorship forced the Jewish family Simson to flee the country in 1936. Under the framework of dispossession of Jewish industrialists a trustee took control of the firm, and so by merger with other factories the Berlin Suhler Waffen- und Fahrzeugwerke (BSW) was formed. In the same year the first motorbike came off the assembly lines, the BSW 98. Critics of the Nazi government suggested a different meaning for the BSW acronym: Bis Simson Wiederkommt (Until Simson Returns). 1925 Simson-Supra Typ SO
After the politically determined emigration of the Simson brothers the factory intensified weapons production. From 1939 the company was called Gustloff-Werke - Waffenwerk Suhl, producing the Panzerbüchse and having subsidiaries such as Otto Eberhardt Patronenfabrik.
The factory continued to build bicycles, weapons and cars until 1945. Then, in 1946, by order of the Soviet military administration the manufacturing plant was partially dismantled and transported to the Soviet Union (USSR). This was as part of the Soviet reparations' programme for the damage inflicted on the USSR by Germany during the Second World War then in 1947 the factory was integrated into the Soviet SAG Awtowelo (state stock company motorcycle).
Later, the USSR handed back control of the factory to the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and in 1952 it was renamed VEB Fahrzeug-und Gerätewerk Simson Suhl. Production of sporting guns, prams and bicycles slowly resumed, but the main focus was again on motorcycle manufacture.
Simson produced more than 300,000 motorcycles of the type AWO 425. This was a shaft driven, 250 cc four stroke motorcycle that enjoyed a high reputation within the Eastern-Bloc countries. There were two main models of AWO 425. The T (touring) had plunger rear suspension, while the S (sport) model had twin-shock swinging arm rear suspension.
Simson motorcycle manufacture ceased in the early 1960s when the GDR government decided that from then on all new private cars and motorcycles would be two-strokes. The GDR already had a two stroke motorcycle factory: the former MZ works at Zschopau. The Simson factory was therefore given a new task of building two stroke mopeds. From the 1960s moped production grew steadily in Suhl; up to 200,000 mopeds per year came off the assembly lines.
Series manufacture of the scooter KR51 "Schwalbe", fitted with a 3.4 hp engine, began in 1964. The year 1968 saw the merger of Simson and VEB Ernst-Thälmann-Werk Suhl to VEB Fahrzeug- und Jagdwaffenwerk Ernst Thälmann Suhl. Subsequently, the Schwalbe helped the company to worldwide fame, and in the GDR the scooter stood for the success of East German two-wheeler motor manufacturing.
After the political changes in East Germany in 1989 a number of attempts to modernise the assembly lines failed. This included commercial production of Makarov PM pistols, which the factory had previously manufactured under the Ernst Thälmann name for East German military and police use. Less than 1,000 commercial Makarovs were produced under the Simson name before the project was shelved. Several investors tried unsuccessfully to keep production going and to bring new developments on market, but production finally ceased in autumn 2002. On February 1, 2003, bankruptcy proceedings were held, in the wake of which the remaining 90 employees were made redundant without any form of compensation.
However, the beautiful Schwalbe has since gained cult status in West Germany, where it is now as popular amongst enthusiasts as the VW Beetle and even more than the Piaggio Vespa.