The city of Neckarshulm, north of Stuttgart, gave its name to a company (Neckarsulmer Strickmaschine Union) that manufactured knitting machines, and subsequently, as Neckarsulm Motorenwerke AG, began to make motor vehicles. The company was founded at Riedlingen on the River Danube but re-located to Neckarsulm in 1880. It ceased manufacturing hosiery machines in the early 1890s, having produced its first cycles in 1886. Its first motor cycles appeared in 1901 and its first motor car in 1905. NSU did not succeed in becoming a large-scale manufacturer of cars, and sold a car factory it had built in Heilbronn to Fiat in 1932, but it had much more success with motor cycles. It supplied the Wehrmacht with the half-track Kettenrad during the Second World War.
In the 1950s NSU was reckoned the world’s largest motor cycle manufacturer, and its size was matched by its sporting successes, achieving world records in 1951, 1953, 1954 and 1955. It also produced the NSU Quickly, the most popular moped of its time, of which a million were built between 1953 and 1966, more than half of which were exported. For many years it had made only motorcycles, but in 1957 re-entered the car market with the Prinz model. NSU was one of only three companies to market motor cars with Wankell rotary engines. Disappointing sales led to the company’s takeover by Volkswagen in 1969, after which Audi and Porsche cars were built at the Neckarsulm factory.
The formation of a museum was encouraged in the 1950s by the Deutsches Museum at a time when it was believed motor cycles would disappear as cars became cheaper. The museum is located on five floors of the Deutschordensschloss a thirteenth-century castle that once belonged to the Teutonic knights. It opened in 1956 with about 70 exhibits and has subsequently expanded many times. A specific NSU department was opened in 1986, and after the most recent re-display visitors are able to examine some 350 exhibits ranging from penny-farthing style bicycles to the latest racing motorcycles. While the main emphasis is on NSU, the products of more than 50 manufacturers are represented, and displays include posters, sidecars, engines and delivery cycles, as well as replicas of the Daimler Einspur of 1885, the first internal combustion-engined motorcycle, and the first production motor cycle, built by Hildebrand und Wolfmüller in 1894.