The company was founded in Bremen on 23rd October 1923 as Bremer Flugzeugbau AG by Prof. Heinrich Focke, Georg Wulf and Dr. Werner Neumann. Almost immediately, they renamed it Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau AG. Initially it produced several commercially unsuccessful aircraft, typically with thick wings mounted high over bulky fuselages. Test piloting one of these, Georg Wulf died on 29th September 1927.
In 1931, under government pressure, Focke-Wulf merged with with Albatros-Flugzeugwerke of Berlin. The resourceful engineer and test pilot Kurt Tank from Albatros became head of the technical department. He immediately started work on the Fw 44, the company's first commercially successful design, launched in 1934.
The first fully controllable helicopter (as opposed to autogyro) was the Focke-Wulf Fw 61, demonstrated by test pilot Hanna Reitsch in 1936 in Berlin. In 1937 shareholders ousted Heinrich Focke, and he founded, with Gerd Achgelis, Focke Achgelis to specialise in helicopters. Meanwhile Tank had designed and produced the passenger-carrying Fw 200 "Condor", which could fly the Atlantic non-stop.
Other Focke-Wulf military aircraft included
As part of Germany's military-industrial machine, Focke-Wulf was not allowed to continue production for several years at the end of the war. Kurt Tank, like many other German technicians, continued his professional life in Latin America. The Argentine Government offered him a job at its aerotechnical institute, the Instituto Aerotécnico in Córdoba. He moved there, with many of his Focke-Wulf co-workers, in 1947.
The Instituto Aerotécnico later became Argentina's military aeroplane factory, the Fábrica Militar de Aviones. It employed the Focke-Wulf men until President Juan Peron fell from power in 1955; then they dispersed, many to the United States, and Tank to work on supersonic aircraft in India.
Restricted plane production was permitted again in Germany in 1951, and Focke-Wulf began to make gliders. Production of motorised planes began again in 1955, with the manufacture of trainer aircraft for the post-war German military.
In 1961, Focke-Wulf, Weserflug and Hamburger Flugzeugbau joined forces in the Entwicklungsring Nord (ERNO) to develop rockets. Focke-Wulf formally merged with Weserflug in 1964, becoming Vereinigte Flugtechnische Werke (VFW).