How the Jeep got its name
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?
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 1937, 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. The name Jeep crept back into Army slang as a term for a new recruit. 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” (chainsaw?). Willys-Overland had owned Moline, but sold it long before the war. The name jumped from these legitimate uses to the half-ton command reconnaissance truck to the quarter-ton Willys.
One theory is that the name “jeep” was derived from Ford’s “G.P.” classification attached to the vehicle. Certainly, it would be an easy step from “peep” to “jeep” given the GP classification (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 all 80-inch-wheelbase recon cars. Early in the war the Willys were classified as reconnaissance trucks, and only later were reclassified as a general purpose truck.
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. The Dodge command car was often called the “beep” and the amphibious version of the GP, the GPA, was called the “seep”.
As 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.
The name 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 plowing, 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 copyrighted the “Jeep” name in 1946, later trademarking it — though arguably Bantam had the greatest claim, and Ford could have produced it as well, as they had during the war. 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.