It is an often-heard myth that the Autobahn was the invention of Adolf Hitler; usually this is claimed by Nazi apologists to have been an important measure to reduce unemployment and an example that Hitler was a great man and "not all was bad" in the third reich.

In truth, the Autobahn network was not originally planned by Hitler, nor did he begin its construction. Plans for a countrywide network of highspeed roads came up already during the Weimar republic and detailed technical planning started in 1924. However, most of these plans could not be implemented due to political instability and railway industry lobbying. In fact, Hitler's NSDAP actively opposed the building of Autobahns only a few years before they came into power in 1933.

Nevertheless, the first short Autobahn (or at least Autobahn-like road) was built between 1929 and 1932 from Cologne to Bonn, on the initiative of Konrad Adenauer, who was at that time mayor of Cologne and chairman of a regional road planning committee (and later became the first chancellor of the newly-formed Federal Republic of Germany).

Also, the word "Autobahn" was first coined at this time, but not referring to the newly-built road: it was used in a trade magazine to describe ambitious plans for a highspeed road from Hamburg to Basel via Frankfurt.