THE UBIQUITOUS JEEP: A WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY PERSPECTIVE

Pedaling past the Miami Beach Convention Center this morning as preparations were underway for the up-coming Auto Show, I was fascinated by Jeep’s “over-the-top” marketing ploy: erecting a steep rollercoaster-like hill for prospective buyers to climb in a test drive.

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Jeeps, in their many variations and incarnations, seem to be as popular today as they were ubiquitous in American WWII combat operations. The first Willys MB Jeeps rolled off the assembly line in 1941, designed to serve as a light, four-wheel drive, all-terrain reconnaissance or vehicle for the U.S. Army and the allies. Karl Probst (1883-1963), a freelance engineer and automobile designer, is credited with the original design for the jeep. Probst had been hired by the bankrupt American Bantam Car Company to produce a prototype Bantam Reconnaissance Car meeting strict U.S. Army specifications and deadlines in 1940. Probst’s Bantam design was approved and also forwarded to larger companies (Willys-Overland and Ford) for minor modifications. To meet the War Department’s ambitious production requirements and timetable, Willys-Overland allowed the U.S. government to allow the Ford Company to mass produce the vehicle according to Willys’ specifications, and ultimately a total of approximately 640,000 Jeeps were produced by Willys and Ford for the war effort with nearly a third of those being supplied to Great Britain and the Soviet Union.

The marketing device being used today in Miami Beach is not so far a stretch from the jeep’s inaugural debut in 1941. Looking to impress Congress, Willys-Overland had the vehicle drive up the steps of the U.S. Capitol building to show off its off-road capabilities. A wide variety of Second World War era ephemera in the Wolfsonian library collection were also intended to laud the virtues of the Army’s toughest automobile.

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GIFT OF AL ALSCHULER

The popularity of the Jeep can be seen in its marketing in Second World War era children’s books and coloring books.

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GIFT OF PAMELA K. HARER

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GIFT OF FRANCIS XAVIER LUCA AND CLARA HELENA PALACIO-DE LUCA

The Army Jeep also figures quite prominently in a series of vintage postcards, using humor to highlight the role played by women serving in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC).

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GIFT OF JEFFREY FISCHER AND MICHAEL SMITH

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GIFTS OF FRANCIS XAVIER LUCA AND CLARA HELENA PALACIO-DE LUCA

Another children’s book from the era, Jenny the Jeep celebrated the vehicle and also foreshadowed post-war production for a civilian market.

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GIFT OF PAMELA K. HARER

A lone pink model in a sea of khaki and olive green jeeps, Jenny experiences jealousy and prejudice.

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GIFT OF PAMELA K. HARER

At the war’s end, however, no one knew what to do with all the surplus jeeps.

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GIFT OF PAMELA K. HARER

Because of her distinctive pink color, Jenny is bought by a civilian interested in turning her into “the prettiest ice cream cart you ever saw.”

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GIFT OF PAMELA K. HARER

The library also possesses another rare children’s book that shows the continuing importance of the Jeep during the American occupation of Japan in the immediate aftermath of the war.

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GIFT OF PAMELA K. HARER

After the war, Willys-Overland remained the only company to continue production of jeep vehicles for military and a civilian market, and in June of 1950 secured the right to use the name “Jeep” as a registered trademark. As I discovered while vacationing in the mountainous Zona Cafetera (or coffee-growing region), the Willys Jeep became extremely popular in Colombia. In the early 1950s, the Colombian distributor Interamericana advertising the agricultural potential of the Universal Jeep, boasted of dealerships in eighteen cities. Even in 2010, I was amazed at just how many Jeeps I saw on the roads, used as rural taxis, or weighed down with boxes and crates of coffee and bananas. As I was told by my host at the finca where I stayed, Willys Jeeps remained in production in Pereira, Colombia as late as 1999, under the licensed name of Willco (short for Willys Colombia).

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It just goes to show how enduring and popular a vehicle the Jeep remains!

~ by "The Chief" on November 8, 2013.

3 Responses to “THE UBIQUITOUS JEEP: A WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY PERSPECTIVE”

  1. Great gift frank. Thx.

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Maria tuvo un willis para subir la loma. Esta muy bueno el blog.

  3. When I was a little girl I had a book about a little yellow jeep. That was in the 1940’s. I have tried to find it with no luck. Do you know how I might locate a copy? Thanks.

    You might want to try the website Abebooks.com for used books. I typed in “children’s book” “jeep” and a publishing date range of 1940 to 1950 and found the following possibilities: Barbara Jane Snedeker, Bounce the Jeep Chicago: Rand McNally and Co., 1947; T. Morris Longstreth, Mounty in a Jeep Macmillan Co., 1949; Marion V. Ridgway, What’s Coming? New York: Howell, Soskin, Publishers, 1944; Peggy Griffin Ayers, The Little Jeep Glendale, Ca: Griffin Patterson Publishing, 1942; Helen Ferris, “Watch Me” Said the Jeep Garden City Publishing Co., 1944. Prices range from $8.00 to $148.50.

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