Nestled in America’s heartland, Toledo, Ohio calls itself the home of the Jeep. But according to a recent letter to the editor published in Automotive News, John Putzier, CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Automobile Dealers Association, disputes this claim.
In his letter, Putzier says that the original Jeeps were produced by American Bantam Car Co. in Butler. Formerly known as the American Austin Car Co., the company was restructured in the late 1930s and designed vehicle models for military testing.
In the midst of WWII, Bantam delivered vehicle prototypes to the U.S. Army within a required 49-day timeframe after an initial formal request process.
Members of a military committee visited the Butler plant and drove Bantam’s roaster. The committee members noted the vehicle’s potential use in the Army, along with the plant’s capabilities for wartime production.
By 1940, Bantam developed the Bantam Reconnaissance Car in response to the U.S. Army’s request for an all-purpose military vehicle. This vehicle became the prototype for the Jeep, later manufactured by Willys and Ford. Years later, it would become known as today’s Jeep.
According to the Center for Military History, the Jeep (officially known as the 1/4-ton 4×4 truck) was developed primarily as a tactical vehicle. However, due to its versatile design, was used for many administrative purposes. The infantry, in particular, needed a lightweight vehicle to replace the motorcycle for reconnaissance and messenger purposes. The army also expressed a need for a light weapons carrier. The Center noted that the Jeep was a major contribution to the Army winning the war.
At the end of his letter, Putzier describes the ninth annual Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival in Butler. Filled with off-road trails, obstacle courses, and parties, the festival seems to celebrate the famous all-purpose military vehicle, in its “true” home.