The Jeep brand was officially founded in 1941 and started out building vehicles specifically equipped for the military. Jeeps were the first mass-produced four door car, thus beginning the age of SUVs. In a rich and tradition-driven history, Jeep changed the face of the automotive industry in the ‘40s and continues to set the standard in off-road cruisers.
When it became evident that the U.S. would join the ongoing war in Europe in the 1940s, the U.S. Army contacted hundred of automotive companies to build a prototype. American Bantam Car Company and Detroit based designer, Karl Probst, answered the call. The Bantam Reconnaissance Car was eventually turned over to Willys and Ford to continue, with both companies later supplying the Army with Jeeps.
The origin of the Jeep name is mildly questioned, but the main theory states that the name came from slurring the cars designation “GP” into “Jeep.” GP stood for Government Purposes or General Purpose. The former president of Willys-Overland, Joe Frazer, claimed the story was true and that’s how the Jeep named was born.
After the war ended, Jeep took it upon themselves to build on their new found popularity and created numerous new designs. In the 50s, Jeep started to explore more recreational possibilities and launched 7 unique models including the M-170, CJ-5, and FC-170. The CJ-5 was the longest run of any Jeep spanning from 1954 to 1984.
Jeep was sold to Henry J. Kaiser in 1953 for $60 million dollars. Kaiser played a major role in establishing the 4WD and its future. While under Kaiser, Jeep manufacturing expanded to 30 different counties and was sold in over 150 countries around the world.
The 60s brought about the modern day Cherokee and Grand Cherokee. In 1963, Jeep introduced the J-Series, Wagoneer which was bigger than a station wagon and officially retained the title, “Sport Utility Vehicle.”
In 1970, Kaiser Jeep was bought by American Motors Corporation and their first act was to split the military production and civilian recreation production. During this time, Jeep also introduced three different engine options. It was in 1976 as Jeep was celebrating their 35th birthday that the CJ-7 was introduced, later becoming the iconic “Wrangler.”
In 1987, just after the Jeep Wrangler was introduced, American Motors Corporation was sold to Chrysler Corporation. The new leadership revolutionized what AMC had built, elevating the Wrangler and Cherokee to stardom.
The Wrangler was named Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road “4x4 of the Year,” and the Cherokee was named Four Wheeler Magazine’s “Four Wheeler of the Year” in 1997.
Today, both Wrangler and Cherokee incorporate over 50 years of tradition and design elements. The famous boxy, off-road nature of Jeep will forever stand the test of time as they continue to re-invent themselves and their product year after year. Taking on the great outdoors is simply done better in a Jeep.