André CitroënAndré Citroen (without the " on the e) was born on the 5th of February 1878 as the son of a Dutch diamond trader and a Polish mother. His parents -Levie Citroen and Marsza Kleinmann- had moved from Amsterdam to Paris in 1875. So he really was French for all intents and purposes. Yet the Dutch still like to be reminded of the fact that the famous industrialist and car maker was of Dutch origin.  André's great-grandfather was Jacob Limoenman (Lemon Man). He was called that way because he sold fruit and vedgeteables along the streets. When Napoleon introduced the Peoples Register in Holland, everybody was required to state a name and a surname. Jacob's son Roelof -André's grandfather- did not consider "Limoenman" appropriate, so he chose "Citroen" (Lemon). The name "Citroen" is not uncommon for Jewish families. There are famous Amsterdam based jewelers by the name of "Schaap & Citroen". Histiory has it that the " were added to André's surname by a teacher or headmaster at primary school, who got confused. In Dutch, the combination "oe" is pronounced as "oo" as in "too". "Citroen" is therefore pronounced as "Citroon". In French, however, the combination "œ" is pronounced as in "Coeur" (Heart). No French tongue was able to pronounce "Citrœn". When André entered Secondary School, his name was recorded as "CitroËn".

In France, the Citroën family were considered upper-middle class. They ran a proper business and socialised with the right people in and around Paris. Inspired by Jules Verne and Gustave Eiffel, André Citroën chose to have a technical education. Based on his graduation rank at secondary school (the French school system is based purely on competitive ranking of the students), he was admitted to the Grande École Polytechnique, one of these "very French" institutions of higher education that have produced the Leaders of the Nation for centuries. This exposed André to a vast network of influential people. In later years, several of his graduation class mates and other "polytechniciens" or "normaliens" were to become his business associates in the numerous ventures he embarked upon. As a young graduate André Citroën started to work for a machine and tool making business. During a visit to his mother's family in Poland, an uncle introduced him to a machine factory where they made heavy gears. He discovered an unused method for cutting V-shaped teeth in gears that had been patented in Russia and André immediately secured himself a license to produce and market them. André in later years adopted the inverted double V or "doubles chevrons" as the French call them, as his personal trademark. With those of brands like GE, Philips and Shell, the Citroën trademark is one of the oldest and strongest of its branch. It is simple and unique in the automotive industry, and everybody recognises it.

André's first experience with auto making was in 1906, when he joined Automobiles Mors as a managing director. He was able to turn around that loss making business and double the production.

In 1915, as an officer of the French Army in WW-1, André Citroën was struck by the persistent shortage of mortar grenades. Based on his knowledge of mass production, he devised a plan for an ammunition facility which he presented to the generals. He was allowed to set up this business, where he managed to attain a production level of no less than 50.000 shells a day. This was accomplished by a perfect organisation of the production steps and a deliberate choice to stick to no more than two different types. At armistice day on 11 November 1918, Citroën's factory had produced the massive number of 24 million pieces of ammunition.

In 1919 Citroën converted his factory to produce automobiles. He was an admirer and friend of Henry Ford, who he went to visit a number of times. André believed that automobiles should be affordable for the broader public, and therefore relatively cheap to manufacture. Production in large series and strict standardisation were the key elements of success. This meant that -like Ford's Model T- only complete cars were produced, with the bodies attached to one single type of chassis. Through the Types A and B2 the production was stepped up to some 35.000 units per year. After another visit to the US in the mid-20's Citroën introduced the all-steel body on the B14 model in 1927. This required the installation of some 250 huge presses -bought from the US- that would stamp out the various body sections in one piece. Standardisation and a minimum of changes to the design were key. Re-tooling of the presses for the body parts was extremely expensive.

Apart from having a clear and firm vision of what the future of automotive transportation would bring to the people, André Citroën from the every beginning of his career had a well developed sense of selling his ideas to the broader public. Marketing, Public Relations and Public Affairs are terminology that was only developed after WW-2. Citroën mastered them all and used these instruments to convince people: to invest in his enterprises, to develop a general interest in automobiles and eventually to buy his product. The famous 5HP "Treffle" (Clover Leaf) launched in 1920 was meant as a low-budget, affordable car, particularly aimed at women. Toy versions of the 5HP were introduced and sold in great numbers. Not only did this get children into pedaling cars (Citroëns of course), but it also offered Citroën the opportunity to have his name and his product on display in every toy shop around the great cities of France. The initiative, brought to Citroën by a friend, to have the brand name displayed on the Eiffel tower during the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts which took place in July of 1925, is well known. It will not be a surprise that from the very start of his car manufacturing businesses, Citroën employed arts designers, publishers, photographers, etc as part of the factory staff.

André CitroënInspired by Henry Ford, Citroën was looking for a real breakthrough that would get people into automobiles. Cars needed to be simple, attractive and easy to handle by users who did not want to be bothered by excessive maintenance or all sorts of technical trouble. Impressed by technical pioneers like Grégoire and Gabriel Voisin, Citroën went out and hired a person who he thought would be capable of bringing about the miracle he had in mind. André Lefèbvre (1894 - 1964) was a young auto engineer and ralley driver who had worked for Voisin and Renault. Citroën put Lefèbvre in charge of developing an autombile that would meet a list of specifications of which some were mutually contradictory. Lefèbvre hired the young stylist Flaminio Bertoni (1903 - 1964) to design something revolutionary. Furthermore he hired a number of technical engineers who were given a free hand to develope key components of the vehicle such as the engine, the gearbox, the suspension, etc that would meet the design specifications ("cahier des charges").

There was one persistent constraint: shortage of money. Lefèbvre was under constant pressure to deliver results in an ever shorter time. The work on the "Petite Voiture" (PV) project commenced in the fall of 1932 and one year later, towards the end of 1933, funds ran really low. Under great pressure from the banks, the promise was made in february of 1934 to launch the PV project before the end of the following month. But the car was far from finished and there were numerous major issues that still needed imporving. The gearbox which had to be developed in three weeks time and the the CV joints on the drive shafts -there were rumors about deliberate sabotaging by the manufacturers-, are just examples.

André Citroën did not live to see the success of his PV project as it came to blossom in later years. He died of stomach cancer on the 3rd of July 1935. By that time his business had gone bankrupt and was rescued by the Michelin tyre makers of Clermont-Ferrand who were Citroën's greatest creditors. André Citroën had a clear vision of the opportunities and what it took to get the masses into automobiles. He started a business that grew to great success in the early '30s. He hired the right people to convert his vision and ideas into reality. But, as so many of his age, he became a victim of his own success at a time when the world had been plunged into its first global economic recession, and money was in short supply. Banks were reluctant to lend the money needed for development and the public could not afford spending money on luxuries like cars.

Michelin, no doubt driven by a keen business interest, had the foresight to allow the people at Citoën to carry on with their work and keep on designing and developing automobiles that set new standards of modern mass motorisation. Pierre Michelin who took care of the business during the turmoil to pull the company out of the bankruptcy, put Pierre-Jules Boulanger (1895-1950) at the head of Citroën in 1937, with the task of straigtening out the business and ensuring that the PV project became a commercial success. Boulanger was very much the enabler of the many innovations in automotive technology that became the hallmark of the Citroën brand. In the midst of the economic crisis, he initiated the "TPV" (Toute Petite Voiture) project which was to become the 2CV after WW-2. Excellent roadkeeping in combination with an ultra-smooth ride were the design parameters that lay at the heart of what was to become the famous hydro-pneumatic suspension. Boulanger killed himself in 1950, on a test ride with a Traction Avant equipped with a very early version of this suspension.

Robert Puiseux (already PDG of Michelin) took over the Chair of Citroën and oversaw the introduction of the DS19 in 1955. André Lefebvre's generation was gradually disappearing from the front because of age. Robert Opron -who had been working as a designer for Citroën- became the head of the department and was responsibnle for the SM, the GS and the CX models. The CX (launched in 1974, after the takeover of Citroën by Peugeot) is regarded by many as the last Citroën with a true character of its own. Following models like the BX, the AX, and ZX were more off-the-shelf type cars which shared many key components like platforms and engines with Peugeot cars of their class. With the many mergers and takeovers that happened in the automobile industry after that, sharing of components has become normal practice which allows manufacturers to keep the development cost within affordable limits.

For those who are interested to learn more about what an intriguing figure André Citroën was, I recommend to read the biography by Jacques Wolgensinger which was published in 1991. Wolgensinger was the Head of Publicity of Citroën for decades. He joined the Company some 20 years after André's death, but developed an inescapable fascination for the heritage of this remarkable person.