Although the name Jeep® became the commercial trademark of the Daimler-Chrysler Corporation, its origin in the early 1940s is somewhat of a mystery. There are a number of explanations, but no one really knows exactly how the name began. This page reviews all the popular theories of how the little 4x4 1/4-ton truck became the world-renowned and popular jeep, now the most universally recognized automotive shape in the world.
A soldier standing next to a Bantam BRC-60 (also called MkII) prototype jeep. Probable date would be in early 1941.
Today in WW II: 21 Jan 1942 Rommel's second offensive drives the British 8th Army back almost 300 miles, halting on 4 Feb between Gazala and Bir Hacheim, 30 miles west of Tobruk, Libya.
Origin of the Term Jeep
The origin of the term or name "jeep" is not firmly established. There are several plausible explanations, but none that is fully supported by evidence that can be said to settle the matter. The most likely explanations come from one or more of the following based on historical facts about the period of the development of the jeep, in 1940 and 1941, just before the beginning of World War II.
One popular idea is that the name jeep came from the military designation "GP" for "General Purpose." After all, the jeep was certainly general purpose, doing every task imaginable during the war, all over the world. And the WW II jeep prototype produced by Ford was indeed designated Ford Model GP.
While the Ford Model was the "GP" it did not mean "General Purpose" rather it came from Ford production codes: G for government, and P for the 80-inch-wheelbase of the vehicle. The Ford prototype was not selected for production, rather the Willys MB was. Ford then manufactured the Willys design under license, designated Ford GPW. The Willys MB and Ford GPW are the standard World War II jeep, with over 700,000 produced.
The early jeeps were called "Combat Car", "Reconnaissance Car", "Bantam", "Quad", "Peep", "Pygmy" and "Blitz Buggy", but not "General Purpose" a phrase which did not appear in any official nomenclature or designation of the jeep.
Jeep Origin Theory No. 2: Eugene the Jeep
Another explanation centers on the cartoon character Eugene the Jeep, who appeared in the Popeye comic strip during 1936. This mythical animal of African origin could only say one word: jeep. It has been speculated that this popular and affectionately thought of character who could go anywhere may have inspired the nickname for the nimble little military truck when it appeared.
Jeep Origin Theory No. 3: WW I Slang
Some reports indicate the use of "jeep" in military slang, dating to World War I, when the word meant a new recruit. The 1/4-ton jeep was a new idea in the U.S. military where previously larger trucks or motorcycles had been used, but never a jeep-sized four-wheel vehicle. Hence, the word may have been applied by soldiers to the unproven jeep vehicle when it was in the prototype testing phase.
Jeep Origin Theory No. 4: Other
Wikipedia reports that "Jeep" had been used as the name of a small tractor made by Modine. Other websites report that the term was "used in Oklahoma as early as 1934 to designate a truck equipped with special equipment for drilling oil wells." Other explanations have tried to link "jeep" to other products, slang, or events but no explanation has been definitely linked to the rapid and widespread adoption of the name in the early 1940s, attached to the military vehicle.
Jeep Origin Theory No. 5: Mixed
The most likely explanation is probably that the origin was mixed and converged on "jeep" from multiple directions. The mighty Ford Motor Company certainly pulled out all the stops in promoting its Ford GP to get the military contract, putting the term "GP" into use. The military people involved in the procurement and testing of the vehicle may have called it jeep from the WW I slang, merging with the Ford name. The civilian contractors, engineers, and testers may have related it to the Eugene the Jeep character in Popeye. Others may have come to the same name from other directions as one person heard it from another and put their own understanding and explanation on it.
Supporting these ideas, Irving "Red" Hausmann, a civilian Willys-Overland engineer, recalled that he picked up the name from the soldiers during testing at Camp Holabird, MD. The first media report using the term jeep was probably an article by Katherine Hillyer, writing for the Washington Daily News. In February 1941 she saw a demonstration of the Willys Quad prototype by Red Hausmann at the U.S. Capitol and published a report including a photo captioned, "Jeep Creeps Up Capitol Steps" (top photo on Willys Quad page). A few months later, the June 1941 issue of The Field Artillery Journal included an article on p413 titled, The Versatile Jeep, describing the Bantam and Ford prototypes that were field tested in early 1941.
Regardless of the origin, the result was the same. The "indestructible, go anywhere, do anything jeep", one of the innovations that won the war.
The name Jeep® is now the commercial trademark of the Daimler-Chrysler Corporation, the result of fifty years of mergers and acquisitions leading back to the Willys-Overland Co. of World War II who established the trademark for its civilian jeeps after the war.
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