During its most successful period in the 1920s and 1930s, it dominated the civil aviation market. Fokker went into bankruptcy in 1996, and its operations were sold to competitors.
At age 20, while studying in Germany, Anthony Fokker built his initial aircraft, the Spin (Spider)—the first Dutch-built plane to fly in his home country. Taking advantage of better opportunities in Germany, he moved to Berlin, where in 1912, he founded his first company, Fokker Aeroplanbau, later moving to the Görries suburb just southwest of Schwerin (at ), where the current company was founded, as Fokker Aviatik GmbH, on 12 February 1912.
Fokker capitalized on having sold several Fokker Spin monoplanes to the German government and set up a factory in Germany to supply the German Army in World War I. His first new design for the Germans to be produced in any numbers was the Fokker M.5, which was little more than a copy of the Morane-Saulnier G, built with steel tube instead of wood for the fuselage, and with minor alterations to the outline of the rudder and undercarriage and a new aerofoil section. When it was realized that arming these scouts with a machine gun firing through the propeller was desirable, Fokker developed a synchronization gear similar to that patented by Franz Schneider.
Fitted with a developed version of this gear, the M.5 became the Fokker Eindecker, which due to its revolutionary armament, became one of the most feared aircraft over the western front, its introduction leading to a period of German air superiority known as the Fokker Scourge which only ended with the introduction of new aircraft such as the Nieuport 11 and Airco DH.2.
During World War I, Fokker engineers were working on the Fokker-Leimberger, an externally powered 12-barrel Gatling gun in the 7.92×57mm round claimed to be capable of firing over 7200 round per minute.