Prior to the US entering WWII, the U.S. Army contacted 135 companies and asked for prototypes of a four wheel drive reconnaissance car. Only two responded, American Bantam and Willys-Overland. After American Bantam delivered their working model for testing on September 21, 1941, the Army found it met nearly all of their criteria, except for a few issues with underperformance, such as engine torque. The Army was adamant about producing a vehicle that met very strict standards.
The blueprints for the vehicle, which the Army owned, were sent to Willys and Ford, along with a list of hopeful improvements. Ultimately, Willys hit the mark and the Willys MB earned a production contract. As the United States entered WWII, it became aware the Army needed more vehicles than Willys could manufacture alone. To boost production of the vehicle that would become known as the Jeep, Ford received a contract to build copycat versions of the Willys design on this day in 1942.
The contract required Ford to build 15,000 GPWs, or General Purpose Willys, at a cost of $14,623,900, about $975 each. The Army believed American Bantam, the original designer of the vehicle, could not produce vehicles fast enough. In the end they received contracts to build various light items, such as trailers. Ford would ultimately build some 300,000 Jeeps.