with, there are about a thousand history of Jeep articles out on the Internet.
So why did I decide to do another, you might ask? Well, it has more to do with
local Jeep history than anything else. In the research for this article, I would
say about 80% of the historians agree that the Jeep's birthplace was in Butler,
PA not very far from where I now sit. However, many dispute this. I had also hoped to focus on some
side-stories such as; the SAS's use of the Jeep in World War II and Jeeps
related to my own personal interests like Civil Air Patrol, Amateur radio, and
so on. One thing about this article, I have noted and linked to all of the
sources I used and their locations as they existed at the time I compiled this
paper. BTW, My comments are in Blue. So, without further adieu......
Another Jeep history,
compiled and researched by
16 March, 2008
In the hills of Western Pennsylvania, circa 1938, a legend
was gestating. It's mother was the US Army, who wanted a small recon vehicle
that could carry a load bigger than most might expect of it, had four-wheel
drive, and could be built in the kind of numbers a war would dictate. It's
midwife was a small company in Butler who was at the time, building a version of
someone else's car and unfortunately not selling many of them, and so was
looking for a way to become profitable. It's father was its initially reluctant designer Karl K. Probst;
who at the time, didn't know he was about to help create a legend that would
last well into the next century and spawn dozens of competitors. Elsewhere in
the world, three countries were about to throw the world into a war the
brutality of which had not been seen before, and would cement the name and image
of the legend into the hearts and minds of people all over the world. That
legend, would come to be known as the Jeep.
American Bantam Car Company had its roots in England, but its branches spread
from Butler throughout the world. In England, in 1921, vehicles were taxed
according to horsepower and the price of gasoline was extremely high. These two
factors led Sir Herbert Austin to design a tiny automobile, unlike anything
produced before. Known as the Austin Seven, it enjoyed immediate popularity. By
1927, the cars were in demand nearly everywhere in the world. Sir Herbert had
already expanded into several other countries and was now looking toward
America. He negotiated with representatives from several localities, finally
deciding upon Butler, Pennsylvania.
American Austin debuted in 1930, at the National Automobile Show. In little more
than a week more than 52,000 orders had been received. By mid-June, a production
rate of 100 vehicles a day was achieved at the Butler plant. Unfortunately, the
Great Depression continued and American families had less and less money and
sales fell drastically. The factory closed in the spring of 1932. In the fall of
the same year, the factory was acquired by entrepreneur, Roy S. Evans, who, at
age thirty, was the largest automobile dealer in the South. Austins again rolled
off the production line in Butler. By summer of 1935, more than 20,000 cars and
trucks had been built. But the stockholders decided to sell all the assets of
the American Austin Car Company. Evans was able to acquire these assets and
reorganize the company as the American Bantam Car Company by 1936, but had no
money left to build cars.
wasn't until 1938 that the first Bantam "60" passenger cars and trucks began
rolling off the production line. A recession later that same year resulted in
far fewer sales than expected. In 1939, five new models were added to the line
and prospects seemed bright. Over a two and one-half year period, the company
produced approximately 6700 cars and trucks, but at an average loss of $75 per
vehicle. By 1941, those bright prospects had dimmed considerably. War had
already consumed Europe and Evans saw the handwriting on the wall. He had tried
to interest the government in a military version of the Bantam for some time.
Meanwhile, a military committee had been formed to develop a midget combat car.
Before deciding upon specifications, the committee members came to Butler and
each drove a Bantam roadster. The report of the committee indicated the
potential of the vehicles and the capabilities of the plant.
bid requests were sent in 1940 to 135 manufacturing companies. By the time
Bantam received the request, the Engineering Department in Butler had been
disbanded. With less than two weeks to develop a design and no engineer on the
payroll, the company contacted Karl K. Probst, in Detroit. He reluctantly agreed
to come to Butler and make an attempt. Within days, Probst, factory manager,
Harold Crist and Cmdr. C. H. Payne, Bantam's military sales representative,
presented an actual layout of the design to the committee.