On this day in 1940 Willys-Overland delivered to the US Armed Forces its prototype for a highly capable vehicle that would soon become known as the Jeep. The design was based off the Bantam BRC, created by Karl Probst and submitted to the Army two months prior. The Army claimed ownership of the initial design and passed it to Willys, citing the company’s better production capability. The primary differences between the Bantam and Willys prototypes were that the latter offered a more powerful engine and four wheel steering.
Ford was recruited to join Willys in building the Jeeps. Together the two companies produced approximately 640,000 Jeeps for World War II, which was about 18 percent of all wheeled vehicles built by the US in that era.
There are several theories about where the name Jeep came from. Some believe it is a slurring of the acronym G.P. V., standing for General Purpose Vehicle, or Government Purpose, but there is no use of these acronyms before the name originates. But there was a GPW acronym from Ford. The G stood for government, P designated the 80-inch wheelbase and W was for the Willys engine. Others attribute the name to Eugene the Jeep, Popeye’s jungle pet that could solve nearly impossible issues. However, the term Jeep was used in the Army as early as 1914 to refer to new test vehicles, including the precursor to the B-17 Flying Fortress.