After attending high school in his home town, Todt studied at a Munich college of technology before 1914.
During World War I he served on the western front and then as a flying observer he was wounded in an air battle. Following the war Todt completed his studies at Karlsruhe and worked as a civil engineer. An early member of the NSDAP - he joined on 5 January 1922 - he was appointed an SS Colonel on Himmler’s staff in 1931 and two years later he was made Inspector-General of the German Road and Highway System. During the next decade the modest, unassuming technologist gathered into his hands responsibility for the entire German construction industry, including military fortifications and the building of the new Reich motorways. By 1938 supreme head of all road-building operations, in charge of all navigational waterways and power plants, Todt was also assigned the task of constructing the Western Wall (known to the Allies as the Siegfried Line). He was allowed to dispose of an army of his own workers known as the Todt Organization, in order to complete the Wall in the shortest possible time. As work began to proceed at an accelerated rate in 1939, the Todt Organization combined with various construction firms, army divisions and almost the entire Reich labour service to finish the project before the outbreak of war.
Appointed Reich Minister of Armaments and Munitions in March 1940 (a position he held until his death in 1942), Todt was also responsible for building the Atlantic Wall and a chain of concrete U-boat shelters along the French Atlantic coast. As head of construction within the framework of the Four Year Plan, Todt had frequently clashed with Goering, but he enjoyed the high respect of Hitler who made him Inspector-General of roads, water and power in 1941. In reward for building the motorw'ays and the Western Wall, he was the first German to receive the ‘German Order’ created by Hitler for individuals who had rendered ‘special services to the German people’. Entrusted within the Party organization with the Head Office for Technology, all the major technical tasks of the Third Reich concerning Germany's war effort were in his hands. Todt was responsible for building roads in the occupied territories from the northern tip of Norway to the south of France and, during the invasion of Soviet Russia, his organization reconstructed miles of Russian railways, altering them to the standard German gauge as well as establishing depots behind the Moscow front.
In all these massive communications works, SS General Todt had at his disposal a vast army of slave labour as well as several divisions of troops. By the autumn of 1941. however, he was close to despair about the military situation and told his future successor. Albert Speer, after returning from a long inspection tour of the eastern front that, given the harsh climate and hardships, ‘it is a struggle in which the primitive people [the Russians] will prove superior'. In spite of his pessimism, reinforced by Hitler’s refusal to give top priority to increasing equipment for the German army, Todt remained a loyal servant of the régime, while avoiding close personal contacts with Party circles and involvement in power intrigues.
He died in an air crash at Rastenburg in East Prussia on 8 February 1942 and his mortal remains were taken to Berlin to be interred there in the military cemetery. Most of his responsibilities, including the Reich Ministry for Armaments and War Production, were taken over by Albert Speer.