NSU was formed in 1873 by Christian Schmidt to make knitting machines. The business moved to Neckarsulm in 1880, and soon moved into the manufacture of bicycles, known by the name, 'Germania'. By 1892, NSU had stopped making knitting machines, moving completely into bicycles. NSU stands for Naeh-und Strick Union (meaning 'Sewing and Knitting union').
In 1901, the company moved into motorcycle manufacture and would end up a major player in that market. In 1957, the company moved into car manufacture with the Prinz, and would blaze a brief trail in its wake the culminated in the briliant Ro80 and, ultimately, takeover by Volkswagen in 1969.