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How the Jeep got its name instead of Peep, Beep, or Seep

Where did the name “Jeep” come from, anyway?

One story has the name originating with test driver Irving “Red” Haussman, who demonstrated Willys-Overland's new trucks early in 1941 by driving one up the steps of the United States Capitol. When asked by syndicated columnist Katherine Hillyer (or perhaps a bystander) what it was called, Mr. Haussman then answered, “It’s a Jeep,” because he had heard soldiers at Fort Holabird calling it by that name. But why had the soldiers called it that in the first place?

Army Peep (Jeep)

See "Creating the Bantam Jeep" and "The Jeep MA and MB"

Originally, many soldiers did not call it a jeep at all. Jack Keenan, a World War II Third Armored Division veteran, wrote that early Willys-Overlands were not called Jeeps. “We called ’em ‘Peeps.’” His contemporary sketches of the vehicles in Louisiana and desert maneuvers were clearly labeled “Peeps,” — you can see some of these drawings on this page. Bill Cawthon agreed about this early name, writing that early in the war the Willys were classified as reconnaissance trucks, and only later were reclassified as a general purpose truck.

Hillyer was not the only writer to call it a Jeep; Scientific American’s Jo Chamberlin, in an article reprinted in early 1942 by the popular Reader’s Digest, called the Willys recon vehicle a “jeep,” based on Lt.Patrick Summerour’s talk. Summerour talked enthusiastically about the jeep’s impact as a courier (carrying armed guards, making it hard for a single sniper to take out), anti-tank weapon (costing $900 rather than $35,000, as a tank did, and able to go anywhere and drive right up to good spots to take out slower, more ponderous tanks), anti-aircraft platform, and emergency vehicle. Again, though, why had Summerour and Haussman called it a jeep?

Army liaison Peep truck

King Features Syndicate trademarked the name “Jeep” in August 1936. The last renewal of the name was in 1996.

Steven J. Zaloga's book Jeeps 1941-45 claims that the term "jeep" had been around for years before the appearance of the MA / G-503, “used as casual slang in the Army for anything that was insignificant, awkward, or silly...[and] by army mechanics during World War I to refer to any new vehicle.”

In 1936, probably based on the Great War's lingo, popular comic strip Popeye unveiled "Eugene the Jeep," who had the ability to go just about anywhere. Zaloga continued, "Jeep crept back into army slang as a term for a new recruit." 

Willys had owned Moline, but sold it long before the war.

By 1944, the jeep nickname was in common use, but other vehicles had the same nickname, including the B-17 bomber. This was rather unfair to Minneapolis Moline, which produced a tractor actually called the Jeep (starting in 1943); and to Halliburton, which used the name for an “electric logging device.” The name, according to Zaloga, jumped from these uses to the half-ton command reconnaissance truck to the quarter-ton Willys.

During World War II, soldiers in some units called the Willys Jeeps “bantams” after the original designer, though “peep” remained popular, and the half-ton was also often called jeep. (Zaloga wrote that the Dodge command car was often called the “beep” and the amphibious version of the GP, the GPA, was called the “seep.”)

willys jeepAs the war went on, Willys advertised their role in the war, and starting in 1942 (most likely, thanks to that February 1941 Washington Daily News article), they called their own vehicle the Jeep. Soldiers were more likely to call it "peep," "bantam," or "son of jeep" (where jeep itself was the half-ton truck), but civilians knew it as a jeep; and by the Korean war, that name would be cemented in place.

Some believe that the name “jeep” was derived from Ford’s “G.P.” classification. It would be an easy step from “peep” to “jeep” (later changed to GPW to acknowledge Willys’ role). GP was often mistakenly thought to mean General Purpose; but actually, G stood for Government and P for 80-inch-wheelbase recon cars.

The name Jeep was later converted into an acronym by soldiers in Korea, who, referring to its basic design, said it meant "Just Enough Essential Parts" ... but that was humor rather than the creation of the word.

Regardless of names, the Jeep MB's record of performance is unquestioned. The Jeep's versatility seemed endless and the truck was virtually indestructible, serving in every theater of WWII.

It was a reconnaissance vehicle, with a machine gun mount. Fitted with stretchers, it became a frontline ambulance. A Jeep with a radio became a mobile command post. Jeeps hauled planes to dispersal bunkers. Soldiers raced them uphill and climbed forty per cent grades. As illustrated in a famous cartoon by Bill Mauldin, the Jeep even provided hot radiator water for shaving. In the Philippines, a Jeep with flanged wheels pulled a fifty-two-ton railroad supply train for nineteen miles at twenty miles an hour. It was widely modified for long-range desert patrol, snow ploughing, telephone cable laying, saw milling, and fire fighting (with pumps); stateside farmers would use it as a tractor. Jeeps could be loaded into transport aircraft for rapid deployment and were small enough to fit into the large gliders used in the D-day invasion of Europe. Famed correspondent Ernie Pyle called the Jeep, along with the Coleman G.I. Pocket Stove, "the two most important pieces of noncombat equipment ever developed."

Willys Jeep CJ-2A

Willys filed a trademark for the Jeep name in 1943, but when it was opposed, causing years of delays, they simply copyrighted it (in 1946). The trademark finally came through in 1950; Bantam had created the car, but had never used the name. Willys’ trademark is still active, now belonging to FCA.

The first post-war Jeep was the prototype Jeep CJ-1A (CJ stands for Civilian Jeep); the production model, Jeep CJ-2A, was unveiled in August 1945, at $1,090. Closely based on the Jeep MB, it was called "CJ" until 1986, when the suspension was modified to prevent flipping by untrained or unwary drivers, and renamed Wrangler. It had gained a considerable amount of size and weight over the years, but had a similar look and was designed with similar versatility in mind.

Related Jeep Wrangler pages

Inside the Wrangler



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