HISTORY OF THE JEEP
Authors: Todd Paisley and Jim Allen
Version: Monday, February 08, 1999 11:51:27 PM
This file began: Mon, 6 Feb 1999
Source: Classic Jeep Mailing List [CJML]
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Also see WillysTech List:
File Editor: Ric Meagley
QUESTION 1: Can you tell me the historical background to jeep? How
did it all begin?
ANSWER 1: Well, for openers, begin reading here, where alot of the
information came from the Herbert R. Rifkind book...
Jeep: Its Development and Procurement under Quartermaster Corps, 1940-1942
Format: Paperback, 199pp.
Publisher: Portrayal Press
Pub. Date: January 1987
QUESTION 2: On the Bantam issue. I give them credit for delivering a
machine in 45 days when no one else would or could. But the Jeep is a
part of our consciousness to this day because of the MB, not the
Bantam. [Would you agree?]
ANSWER 2: If you are talking about the nation's acknowledgment that
a Jeep exists, the "consciousness" predates the MB. If you go back
and look at the period press at that time, they were very sympathetic
to Bantam's situation. (A David vs. Goliath story people like to read
about.) If you look at any of the pictures the press published about
the Jeep, most showed either the Bantam pilot model (or one of the
first 69 BRC models) or the Ford Pygmy or GP prototype towing a
37-mm cannon or jumping with one towed behind it. I have seen very few
pictures of the Willys Quad (one I can think of is the common one you
see of the Quad climbing steps in Washington.)
When the Quartermaster Corp picked Ford as the winner of the tests
(even though Willys won, Bantam came second, and Ford a dismal
distant third), a firestorm of protests erupted from the press. One
very vocal columnist was I.F. Stone of PM magazine. He was a very
strong supporter of Bantam and reported the secret deal between Ford
and Spicer. (Source: I.F. Stone, "Army Alters "Midget" Car to Please
Henry Ford", PM, January 19, 1941) He also reported the weight
change to make sure Ford could compete. (Background: After the 70
Bantams were produced, the QMC changed the weight to what the Bantam
The next 4500 vehicles purchased were split among Bantam, Ford and
Willys. (Some more background: The original testers of the Bantam did
not agree with splitting the award and they recommended sticking with
Bantam. (When it was decided that an additional 1500 vehicles were
to be procured. It was decided that the 1500 would be split up
between the three companies. Bantam got wind of the QM possibly
ordering jeeps from Willys and Ford and sent a series of protests to
the Secretary of War. In the first one, they reviewed the history of
the jeep development and claimed that Bantam "had developed the jeep
for the Army with no other automobile manufacturer contributing one
iota to its successful completion." They also mentioned the
enthusiasm of the Army over the development, which could be easily
verified. They also pointed out that they devoted their entire
factory to the production of the jeep during the development phase,
while Willys and Ford continued their regular production. It also
mentioned it had the most small car knowledge and that their facility
should be more than enough to meet the Army's demand, provided the
bottleneck with Spicer cleared up.
They offered that "should the time arrive that Bantam was not able to
fill Army demands, We would be glad and willing to turn over all
detail drawings and other help to other automobile manufacturers in
the interest of National Defense". (Source: QM 451 (Proc 398-41-9),
Charles H. Payne, Asst. To President, American Bantam Car Company, to
the Honorable Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War, October 14, 1940)
The QM general sharply protested buying the 1500 from Bantam since he
considered the Bantam jeep not to be a pilot model, but "a
preliminary engineering model". He also considered the body design to
be furnished by Holabird and the axles and transfer case by Spicer
Mfg. Corporation. (Source: QM 451 (M-P) (398-41-9), QMG to AG,
"Procurement of Fifteen Hundred (1,500) Trucks, 1.4-ton (4x4) Light
Reconnaissance Trucks", November 1, 1940)
The Infantry representative object[ed] to the purchase from Ford and
Willys of a thousand vehicles "which have never been seen, much less
tested". They said the Bantam "has been engineered, thoroughly
tested, and found satisfactory". The also said "It is the only
instance known to the undersigned of any vehicle manufacturer
cooperating to this extent. The past attitudes of Ford and Willys
has been one of indifference to the special requirements of the
It does not seem either in the interest of the government or
consistent to fair play to discourage Bantam in such efforts by
failing to give them the support to which their initiative and
cooperative attitude entitle them." (Source: "Proceedings of Motor
Transport Sub-Committee, QMC Technical Committee" Infantry
Non-concurrence, October 21, 1940)
The Field Artillery representative also recommended going only with
Bantam. It was looking like Bantam was going to get the 1500 vehicle
order when the QMG sent a memorandum to General R.C. Moore, Deputy
Chief of Staff, G-4 stating that the QMC would now obtain 1500 jeeps
from Bantam. But he added "of course, you understand that this
proposal must be approved by the National Advisory Commission. At
the QMG wishes to go on record that he did not consider the directed
action in the best interest of the government" and that Bantam's
financial status was inadequate. He also went on to state that
multiple source where advantageous to the government in an event of
an emergency. (Source: QM 451 (M-P) (Proc. 398-41-9), QMG to General
R.C. Moore, November 6, 1940) The commission was consulted and it
stated "We believe the division between at least two source
desirable". It was then decided that 1500 be ordered from Bantam,
Willys and Ford.
In the cases of Ford and Willys, they had to produce a pilot model
that was acceptable before the could go ahead with the rest of their
production. Ford completed theirs before Willys. The weight was more
than the requirements so they upped the weight limit. When Willys
submitted theirs, they upped it again! The press cried fowl. Mr.
Fenn, the president of Bantam, was quoted "I would have to add
pig-iron to my vehicle to make that limit!" Also the labor movement
at the time was very vocal against the inclusion of Ford. The
Butler, PA area at the time was deep in unemployment. Ford had a large number
of defense contracts at the time and they could have easily received
other contracts other than the Jeep.
Because of the press and labor movement attacks on the jeep
procurement process, this caused a national controversy and the
Truman Commission was set up to investigate the procurement. Senators
Truman, Mead and Brewster were conducting its inquiry on the "small
business" angle. The Committee centered its examination of the
witnesses mostly around the reasons behind shifts in War Department
policy on the procurement of the jeep. They first started from a
single source from the beginning which the using arms were content
with American Bantam, to the three sources of Bantam, Willys and
Ford,and then back again to one source. The Truman Committee found this
last change puzzling since the policy of one source seemed to be in
direct conflict with another departmental policy, contract
distribution, which the War Department was trying to carry out.
The policy of contract distribution was supposed to aid small
businesses and distressed communities through the spreading or
splitting of War Department contracts when possible, in affect, a
system of multiple sources of supply. Senator Mead was sympathetic
to Bantam's plight and slammed the War Department. He brings up the
point that the Assistant Secretary of the War Department briefed
their sub-committee about how they would not float loans to companies for
the purpose of plant expansion or new equipment when an existing
plant and equipment are available for a given contract. Willys and
Ford had to be floated loans to tool up for the jeep for the final
production of jeeps. Bantam already had the facilities and they were
putting them out of business.
Another memorable quote is " And this is the policy of the War
Department, which a few days ago came before this committee and said
"Oh, we spread all the contracts." I wonder whether it is spreading
the contracts or something else...." He also slammed them for not
utilizing Bantam by saying "I want to tell you, if Joe Stalin doesn't
stall that fellow Adolf over there in the snows of Russia, we will
be short a few jeeps when the time comes..." The House also
investigated the jeep contracts in the Military Affairs Committee.
They also focused on the distribution of war contracts to small
Exact exchange that occurred after the Committee asked whether the
procurement of Jeeps from one source was a reversal of policy:
Senator Brewster: Well, I thought you wanted three sources.
Colonel Van Duesen: We wanted three sources in connection
with the development and service test of these to determine
what a suitable vehicle would be and whether any one of the
three manufacturers would build a suitable vehicle.
Senator Mead: And then, Colonel, once you established that
was a suitable model, it would be very easy for you to
standardize it, it would be easy for the three plants to
produce them according to your standardized specification.
So why determine to eliminate two in favor of one plant when
the need is so great and so instant?
Colonel Van Duesen: That is true where you are building and
buying a design. We are not building and buying to a design.
We are buying commercially produced units.
Senator Mead: Yes, but why wouldn't you standardize them?
You were looking for a model that would meet with your
specifications, your tests. Why couldn't you standardize
them and why couldn't you, as long as you needed them,
thousands of them, allow a pioneering company already in the
field to participate in the production of this standardized
Colonel Van Duesen: We could standardize if we were to
specify the engine will be the Continental, model so-and-so,
the transfer case and transmission shall be Spicer or
Warner's model so-and-so, the axle shale be Timken or Spicer
model so and so.
Senator Mead: Or equivalent, or something of that sort.
Colonel Van Duesen: If you put "or equal" in there, you
can't force the procurement of the type to secure the
standardization. There is only one way of attaining complete
standardization, and that is to draw on the board the item in
complete detail and force everybody to make that item. When
you are buying commercial items, there is a different
combination by different manufacturers, and any one of which
may meet the specification and give you a satisfactory
Senator Mead: So that on one occasion we have the Assistant
Secretary up here and he tells us under his directives he
won't allow any loans from plant expansion or the purpose of
new machines if there are plants and machines already
available for a given contract.
Colonel Van Deusen: This is true, and this is one of the
points that I want to bring out.
Senator Mead: There are so many things TRUE that one can't
understand the truisms of all of them when one tries to fit
them together. Now we have another witness who tells us - and
this is evidently true, too - that in order to get a certain
design it is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY to put one completely out
of business, with its plant, its machinery, and its skilled
workers, and allow another company which has been enjoying
the inertia of bankruptcy, and with cobwebs, and rust laying
around the plant and machines, to go to the Government and
get a loan of $3,000,000, so that the Government actually is
going into the business of putting a pioneering company
completely out of business.
The Chairman: One that it financed itself.
Senator Mead: And that is the policy of the War Department,
which just a few days ago came before this committee and said
"Oh, we spread all the contracts." I wonder whether it is
spreading the contracts or spreading something else that is
actually being down in reality.
Colonel Van Duesen: I have no comment to make on that.
Senator Mead: Colonel, This isn't meant for criticism of
you or your work. You are just a cog in a machine, and you
are doing your bit.
The Chairman: We are criticizing policy. It is a very
Senator Mead: It is a policy that really merits strong
(Source: Truman Committee Hearings, Testimony of Francis H. Fenn,
President, American Bantam, August 6, 1941; Testimony of Lt. Col.
Edwin S. Van Duesen, Chief, Procurement Branch, Motor Transport
Division, QMC, August 6, 1941)
Even after these hearings, Bantam tried to get back in by producing
Jeeps with the Willys design. When Ford heard the Willys won the
contract, they went back to the QMC and asked if they could produce
Jeeps using the Willy's design. An agreement was reached between the
QMC, Willys and Ford to do this. Bantam wanted to do this as well,
but the QMC used one excuse after another to make sure they didn't
get it. (I.E. Bantam had to show it could get duplicate sources for
all its parts. An example is the constant velocity joint in the
front axle. Bantam wanted to use The Gear Grinding Machine Company
of Detroit, but the QMC "doubted" the company could do this.) The QMC
felt Willys and Ford could produce all the Jeeps for the demand,
therefore Bantam's re-entry into making Jeeps was not warranted.
Bantam was the victim of intense politics and the desire of the upper
management of the QM to ensure Ford was involved. The rest of the
nation watched the proceedings and were aware at the time.
Unfortunately, time covers a lot of this evidence. Because a lot of
the people on this list did not grow up during this time, Bantam's
extremely important contribution continues to fade because of
ignorance and lack of education.
[Authored by Todd Paisley ]
ANSWER 3: Isn't it odd that the politics of 60 years ago can still
rear it's head. Fate isn't always kind. It's probably true that
prior to the first contract, there was justification for doubting
Bantam's ability to produce in large numbers. Still, they proved
themselves both by their performance in meeting the first contract
but also shipping out BRC-40s under the later contracts. Their record in
this was better than Willys. Apparently, their record in building
trailers, landing gear and torpedo motors was good too.
Without the Go Devil engine, Willys wasn't really a contender. Beyond
that contribution, they didn't have all that much to offer in those
early days. Had Willys not been in the picture, ultimately, it would
have been Ford. In many ways, Ford's initial contributions were more
"on target" than Willys'. I guess it'll always be a case of "to the
winner goes the spoils" - and the credit!
Bantam turned the CONCEPT of the quarter-ton 4x4 into REALITY.
Everything that followed was a development of that, including the
Willys rigs, the Ford rigs, the Russian GAZ, the '43 Toyota AK and
the '48 Land Rover, etc. Before the Bantam Pilot model of 1940,
nothing existed quite like it. The closest cousin I know of would be
the Livingood 4x4 Model T conversion, a compact, lightweight 4x4.
After that, there were various half-ton truck and car conversions by
Marmon-Herrington and, of course, the VC series Dodges.
It can be argued that Bantam was not alone in conceiving the idea of
the Jeep but just like when a painter is told, "paint me a picture of
that mountain" the person who commissioned the painter does not sign
his name, the painter does. IMHO, Bantam gets to paint their name on
the jeep idea.
I may draw fire here, but I have always thought that Probst got more
credit than he deserved. Not that his contributions weren't vital,
but he was part of a team that included Harold Crist, Ralph Turner
and Chester Hemphling. Without these men, the plan would have failed
as well (they were especially vital in the "hands-on engineering"
part) but how often do you see their names in the histories. I know
that Crist was later pivotal in designing the M-422 Mighty Mite, a
very advanced 4x4 design. Probst was a talented man, but as a
"freelance" designer and engineer he had to "self-promote" to get
jobs. His time at Bantam was fairly short, so when he left, to get
more work he promoted the fact that he had "designed the jeep" well
enough that the others were semi-forgotten. There are people who have
claimed he was deliberate in his exclusion of the others but I cannot
judge the veracity of this. I reserve judgement for lack of evidence
and prefer to give him the equal credit he deserves, along with the
others involved. I don't begrudge a freelancer self promotion, it's a
necessary part of business, but I think that history may have
mistakenly taken Probst's efforts at securing his next job as the
"whole truth" and not looked any farther.
There are many points to debate in this, and bear in mind that I am
not "throwing down the gauntlet" here, just expressing an opinion
based on lots of reading, including Probst's own accounts.
[Authored by Jim Allen email@example.com]
QUESTION: What is the story behind the W-O factory Change Release
forms, you often refer to? - How and when did they survive?
ANSWER: The forms I have been referring to are the Engineering
Release Forms (ERF). This is the master list of all W-O projects and
changes to vehicles that required the attention of the Engineering
Dept. I have them from 1946 to early 1954. (around 10K entries).
The ERF was put together in April 1946 because of a decision of
upper management to consolidate all the various forms into one main
form. (There were a few other misc. forms that were confusing.
There was the Running Change forms that documented the various
changes. Also the experiments and projects were assigned a number.
The Estimate Forms were numbers assigned to the estimates on what it
would cost to implement the changes. Etc. Etc.) A committee with
representatives of the various departments was formed to create the
ERF. I interviewed the guy who designed the form and he said that
the ERF was not well received because they felt it was just another
bureaucracy form. Early on in the form you can see that almost all
the fields were filled in. By the end, only a couple of the fields
were filled in.
The other pre-ERF form that I have is the Production Release Form
(PRF). This documents when a particular part was phased in at what
serial number in the Production Department.
As to how they survive, most have survived because of former
employees. There are a group of us who track down the old employees,
the vendors who dealt with the company, etc. to track down this kind
of information. It takes a hell of a lot of time and detective
work. Lots of phone calls, lots of dead ends, lots of people
thinking you are nuts, etc. It takes a lot of tenacity to sniff out
the documents. There are a few tricks, but I don't want to give them
out. ;) It also takes luck. I found an employee organizational
chart so finding names isn't a problem for me. There is a lot of
stuff I don't know and forms that people I have interview have told
me about, but I have no idea what they look like or if they have
survived. The more I dig in, the more I realize I don't know...
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May 25, 2007.