Junkers Flugzeug under Motorenwerke AG was founded in 1895 by Hugo Junkers (1859-1935) as a boiler and radiator manufacturing company. Around 1909, already aged 50, Junkers taught himself airplane design. His radical idea was to make airplanes entirely out of metal, the material he knew best, at a time when aeroplanes were invariably made out of wood and fabric with the occasional metal-tube frame. His solution to making the iron strong enough to be used in thin sheets without unnecessary bending was to corrugate sheets of iron, gaining strength from folding the surface of the iron back and forth in the same way that strong boxes today are made of corrugated paper. By 1915 he had built a practical all-metal airplane out of corrugated iron, and during World War I he moved to lighter aluminum alloys.
A few of Junkers’ military aircraft saw action near the end of the First World War, but he really built is reputation in the inter-war years with a series of strong transports that were especially popular in places like the Canadian bush. His masterpiece was the Ju 52/3m trimotor transport which became the most successful transport in Europe prior to the mid 1930s and continued in service with some airlines and air forces into the 1950s.
Hugo Junkers was forced out of his company by the Nazi government for his socialist and political leanings in 1934, aged 75, and he died the following year. His company went on to produce important military aircraft for Germany during World War II. In the 1960s, Junkers was progressively absorbed by the Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm aerospace conglomerate and had completely disappeared by 1969.
Junkers aircraft were never very attractive. They look like they were designed by someone who started off building boilers. Corrugated metal is difficult to form into compound curves, which limited what Junkers could do aerodynamically, but even when Junkers switched to conventional stressed skin construction in the immediate pre-World-War-II years, its aircraft were not things of beauty.
Junkers eventually started designing and producing engines as well. Its engines were all called Jumo, an abbreviation of Junkers Motoren. During World War II, Junkers motors were among the finest piston aero engines produced by any combatant, and Junkers also designed and built the jets that powered the revolutionary Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter.
Junkers was located in Dessau, in eastern Germany. Its World War II factory still stands at what is now the local airport, and part of it houses a museum featuring the technology of Junkers. Because this part of Germany was under Soviet control during the days of the Iron Curtain, the museum also includes rare non-Junkers artifacts from the East Bloc.