In 1939, the American Bantam Car Company
submitted its original design for an all-terrain troop
transport vehicle--featuring four-wheel drive, masked
fender-mount headlights, and a rifle rack under the
dash--to the U.S. Armed Forces. The Army loved Bantam's
design, but the development contract for the vehicle
was ultimately awarded to the Willys-Overland Company
for its superior production capabilities. Bantam wound
up fulfilling a government contract for 3,000 vehicles
during the war; but the Jeep, as designed by Willys-Overland,
would become the primary troop transport of the U.S.
Mass production of the Willys Jeep began after the U.S.
declaration of war in 1941. The name "Jeep"
is reportedly derived from the Army's request that car
manufacturers develop a "General Purpose"
vehicle. "Gee Pee" turned to "Jeep"
somewhere along the battle lines. Another story maintains
that the name came from a character in the Popeye cartoon
who, like the vehicle, was capable of incredible feats.
The Willys Jeep became a cultural icon in the U.S. during
World War II, as images of G.I.'s in "Gee Pees,"
liberating Europe, saturated newsreels in movie theaters
across the country. Unlike the Hummer of recent years,
the Jeep was not a symbol of technological superiority
but rather of the courage of the American spirit--a
symbol cartoonist Bill Mauldin captured when he drew
a weeping soldier firing a bullet into his broken down
By 1945, 660,000 Jeeps had rolled off the assembly lines
and onto battlefields in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Many
remained abroad after the war, where their parts were
integrated into other vehicles or their broken bodies
were mended with colorful impromptu repairs. Wherever
the Jeep roamed, it lived up to its design as a vehicle
for general use. During the war, Jeep hoods were used
as altars for field burials. Jeeps were also used as
ambulances, tractors, and scout cars. After the war,
surplus Jeeps found their way into civilian life as
snowplows, field plows, and mail carriers. Willys-Overland
released its first civilian Jeep model, called the CJ
(Civilian Jeep) in 1945. On this day in 1952, the 1,000,000th
Jeep was produced.