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Birth, history of Jeep

The annual Jeep Invasion is just one aspect of the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival that celebrates the long history of the Jeep. Cranberry Eagle File Photo

The American Austin Car Company was founded in 1929 but lasted less than five years before filing for bankruptcy in 1934.

In 1935, the American Bantam Car Company in Butler emerged from the company’s reorganization efforts.

Bantam initially manufactured economy cars but switched course after the U.S. Army requested prototype reconnaissance cars in the summer of 1940.

More than 100 manufacturers received the U.S. Army’s request. Bantam was the only company that promised to design, manufacture and deliver a working vehicle with the army’s requirements by the 49-day deadline. Bantam’s tenacity encouraged the Army to award it a contract.

Bantam hired engineer Karl Probst from Detroit who immediately began work on a model for the Army. He spent 18 hours at the drafting board, and his design later became known as the Jeep.

On Sept. 23, 1940, Bantam delivered its first reconnaissance car, driven by Ralph Turner of Butler, to the Army at Camp Holabird, Md. The Army received the car just half an hour before the deadline.

The Army tested the Bantam Reconnaissance Car, BRC, for 30 days, then shared the vehicle design with Ford Motor Co. and Willys-Overland. Bantam and the two other companies received orders from the Army for 1,500 BRC vehicles each.

During WWII, the vehicles became widely popular for military use. Over 600,000 vehicles were built to handle rough terrain and to cart soldiers and equipment.

In 1950, Willys-Overland Motors of Toledo, Ohio, received a trademark for the Jeep after several rejected applications. Bantam stopped production of Jeeps after fulfilling the Army’s initial order and went on to make trailers, motors and other items before discontinuing all manufacturing in 1956.

Jeeps remained popular with the Army until the ’80s. The Jeep was then replaced by AM General’s Humvee.

Production of the Jeep continued for nonmilitary use during a continual transfer of ownership and manufacturing rights. In January of 1987, Chrysler Corp. took over Jeep manufacturing and continues to this day.

Sources: “The Birthplace of the Jeep” by Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau and “A Brief History of Jeep: 75 Years from Willys to Wrangler” by Larry P. Vellequette of Automotive News.

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