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The Jeep is a multipurpose light motor vehicle developed by the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps for Allied military forces in World War II. Designed by Colonel Arthur William Sidney Herrington (1891-1970) at the Marmon Motor Corporation in Indianapolis, one million jeeps were manufactured by the Willys-Overland Motors Company in Toledo and under license by American Bantam Car Company and the Ford Motor Company from 1941 to 1945.

The small, sturdy, versatile Jeep had the ruggedness of a truck and the maneuverability of an automobile. It carried four passengers or one-quarter ton of cargo over difficult terrain at speeds up to 65 mph. The origin of its name is unclear. It may derive from its military nomenclature, general purpose vehicle (g.p.), or come from Eugene the Jeep, a 1936 Popeye comic strip character drawn by E. C. Edgar. In any case, American newspapers were using the name Jeep by 1941. The fast, lightweight, all-terrain reconnaissance vehicle was used in World War II by all U.S. military forces as well as the British, French, Russian, Australian, and New Zealand armed forces. The war correspondent Ernie Pyle recalled the Army jeep was "as faithful as a dog, as strong as a mule and as agile as a goat." The United States military continued to use M38A1 jeeps for various purposes at the end of the twentieth century.

Army surplus jeeps were used in a variety of agricultural, construction, and commercial purposes by American veterans familiar with the jeep's practicality. By 1945 Willys-Overland designed the CJ-2A jeep, the first model intended for civilian use, an all-steel sedan or station wagon used as a two-wheel drive seven passenger or delivery vehicle. By 1949 a four-wheel drive, six-cylinder jeep was produced for the growing number of drivers who used it for fishing, hunting, skiing, and other recreational off-road activities.

In 1953 the Kaiser-Frazer Company acquired the Willys-Over-land Company and produced the larger, wider CJ-5 Willys Jeep Station Wagon, a functional four-wheel drive utility vehicle. This civilian jeep, based on the Army M38A1 jeep used in the Korean war, became a milestone in postwar American automotive history, was manufactured for 30 years in 30 countries, and sold in 150 nations. By 1963 the new Jeep Wagoneer marked the end of the classic Willys Wagon which ceased production in 1965. The Wagoneer was the first sport utility vehicle (SUV), and by 1970 it tripled annual jeep production and was imitated by Ford, Chevrolet, and Chrysler.

In 1970 the American Motors Corporation took over the Kaiser-Jeep Corporation, thus gaining the Wagoneer's expanding baby boomer market. Throughout the 1970s more comfortable models derived from the jeep were seen on highways around the world as Plymouth, Toyota, and Isuzu introduced similar off-road vehicles (ORV). In the 1980s, when fuel conservation was no longer the concern it had been in the 1970s, larger, heavier, more expensive SUV models became popular with suburban motorists. Although not replacing the jeep, the most popular SUV models, with names evocative of the outdoors and the Western frontier (such as the Navigator, Explorer, Renegade, Blazer, Mountaineer, Trooper, Rodeo, Wrangler, Comanche, Cherokee, and Pathfinder), combined the rough and tough jeep reputation with the appealing features of the station or ranch wagon and the pick-up truck.

When Chrysler absorbed AMC in 1987, it was largely to gain the jeep's increasing share of the market. A right-hand drive Jeep Cherokee model was produced for the U.S. Post Office and in Britain, Australia, and Japan, and the Grand Cherokee replaced the Wagoneer in 1993. Chrysler, having merged in 1998 with the Daimler Benz Company, continued to produce a variety of Daimler Chrysler jeep models for civilian, military, and government drivers.

Since World War II, when soldiers drove the American jeep around the world, it has proven to be a ubiquitous war-horse, workhorse and the most popular vehicle ever manufactured. One indication of the jeep's popularity with the G.I.s was Glenn Miller's Army Air Force Band recording of "Jeep Jockey Jump" in 1943 and Fats Waller's song "Little Bo Peep Has Lost Her Jeep." The 1944 movie Four Jills in a Jeep recreated a USO troupe entertaining soldiers during the war. Television featured the jeep in two popular programs: The Roy Rogers Show (NBC, 1951-57) had a jeep named Nelliebelle, and The Rat Patrol (ABC, 1966-68) showed a U.S. Army jeep squad harassing Rommel's Afrika Korps during the war.

Perhaps the most unusual legacy of the jeep may be the Manila jeepney. These brightly colored, elaborately decorated jeep taxis carry one-third of the city's commuter and tourist traffic daily. Many other tourist and resort centers used jeeps for off-road recreation at the end of the twentieth century, as did millions of dedicated jeep motorists around the world.

—Peter C. Holloran

Further Reading:

Cattanach, John. The Jeep Track. London, Regency Press, 1990.

Fetherston, David. Jeep: Warhorse, Workhorse and Boulevard Cruiser. Osceola, Wisconsin, Motorbooks International, 1995.

Guttmacher, Peter. Jeep. New York, Crestwood House, 1994.

Torres, Emmanuel. Jeepney. Manila, GCF Books, 1979.

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Jeeps were four-wheel utility vehicles created for the use of the army in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Tough, rugged, and practically unstoppable, the Jeep is not only the star of hundreds of war and adventure films; it is also the ancestor of the stylish yet rugged sport-utility vehicles (SUVs; see entry under 1980s—The Way We Lived in volume 5) now produced by most automobile manufacturers.

Shortly after World War I (1914–18), the American armed forces recognized a need for a light, tough automobile for use in reconnaissance (survey and exploration of battle areas). By 1940, as another war loomed on the horizon, the American army challenged 135 American automakers to produce such a vehicle. The army gave the car manufacturers a list of specifications. These specifications included four-wheel drive; a pedestal to hold a machine gun; extra ground clearance (space between the bottom of the vehicle and the ground); and an increased cooling system to allow the vehicle to drive for extended periods at speeds as low as three miles per hour without overheating. The deadline for submitting a working model of such a car was September 23, 1940, only forty-nine days after the guidelines were issued.

Only one company met the army's deadline, a small auto manufacturer called American Bantam Car Company. Bantam designed a car that suited the army's needs. The company was not in a solid financial state, so the army granted the contract to two other companies, Willys and Ford, using Bantam's design.

There are various explanations of why the small military vehicle was called a Jeep. Such names as Peep, Bug, Puddle Jumper, Leapin' Lena, and Blitz Buggy were sometimes used, but Jeep remained the most popular. Some trace the name back to the army designation, General Purpose Vehicle. Others claim that the name Jeep had been military slang since World War I, when it was used to mean a new, untested vehicle or a new, untested recruit. Still others point to a popular character in the 1930s Popeye (see entry under 1920s—Print Culture in volume 2) cartoon strip called Eugene the Jeep. Readers who loved Eugene began calling any good product or upright person a "Jeep."

However it came about, the name Jeep is now associated with rugged four-wheel-drive vehicles. The name has remained, though the manufacturing company has changed several times since the first civilian Jeep was manufactured by Willys in July 1945. In 1953, the Kaiser company took over Willys and continued to manufacture the Jeep. In 1970, the American Motor Company (AMC) took over Kaiser Jeep, and in 1987 AMC was bought out by Chrysler. In 1998, Chrysler merged with Mercedes Benz to create Daimler Chrysler. Daimler Chrysler continues to make all types of Jeeps, from the rugged Wrangler to the luxury Grand Cherokee.

—Tina Gianoulis

For More Information

Allen, Jim. Jeep. Osceola, WI: MBI Publishing, 2001.

Allen, Jim. "Will the Real Jeep Please Stand Up?" Fourwheeler (March 1995).

Brown, Arch, and the auto editors of Consumer Guide. Jeep: The Unstoppable Legend. Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1994.

Foster, Patrick R. The Story of Jeep. Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 1998.

Guttmacher, Peter. Jeep. New York: Crestwood House and Maxwell Macmillan, 1994.

Kefford, Alex. "Resources: Jeep History." Jeep, The All Fours Jeep Club. (accessed February 15, 2002).

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jeep / jēp/ • n. trademark a small, sturdy motor vehicle with four-wheel drive, esp. one used by the military. ORIGIN: World War II: from the initials GP, standing for general purpose, influenced by ‘Eugene the Jeep,’ a creature of great resourcefulness and power represented in the Popeye comic strip.

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jeep, small, durable automotive vehicle intended for heavy-duty applications and sometimes provided with the capability of delivering driving power to all four wheels. The last feature allows superior performance on slippery surfaces such as those formed by ice or mud. The earliest jeeps were used by U.S. military services during World War II.

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jeep small utility motor truck. XX (orig. U.S.). f. initials G.P. ‘general purposes’, prob. infl. by Eugene the Jeep, name of animal in U.S. comic strip by E. C. Segar.

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