What is the History of the Jeep?

Dan Cavallari

Jeeps were originally intended for off-road use, and only later became used by everyday drivers. The Jeep as a utility vehicle originated during World War II and was used by soldiers for a variety of applications. A strong, capable workhorse, this vehicle has evolved throughout subsequent decades to become a utilitarian vehicle capable of both on- and off-road use.

Jeeps originated as utility vehicles that were used for a variety of applications in World War II.
Jeeps originated as utility vehicles that were used for a variety of applications in World War II.

The first manufacturer to make a Jeep was the Willys-Overland Company, though the prototype was made by a different company. Willys-Overland designed their own prototype and pitched it to the military, eventually winning a contract. During World War II, however, Willys-Overland was too small to handle the production demands of the military, so other companies such as Ford Motors also began manufacturing them. With several companies making the vehicle, the Jeep became a constant presence on most military fronts and caught the eyes of military personnel as well as civilians back home.

After the war, the first civilian models of the vehicle were being designed and manufactured. The civilian jeep — or CJ, as it became known — was designed in the early 1940's, and subsequent models were manufactured into the 1950's. The brand, however, was not lucrative during this period and was eventually sold. Over the next few decades, the brand was sold several times, with varying degrees of success.

Eventually, the Jeep brand ended up in the hands of the Daimler-Chrysler corporation. While under Chrysler control, the CJ underwent a redesign, and the Wrangler was born. This street-friendly version became extremely popular among both everyday drivers and off-road enthusiasts. Unlike most of its sport-utility vehicle competitors, the Wrangler has solid front and rear axles, which aid in articulation for off-road purposes. Further, solid axles allow the body of the vehicle to be lifted to accommodate larger tires; the shorter wheelbase of the Jeep allows for maneuverability in tight spots. These factors have made the Wrangler and its many variations coveted vehicles in the off-road market.

Today, the Jeep brand has an entire line of different vehicles that suit different driving needs. The Cherokee is a larger, heavier version of the CJ that has more storage space and passenger room. A more streamlined version of the Cherokee was designed in the 1990's; the Grand Cherokee was both bigger, sleeker, and more visually appealing, making it a popular choice for on-road use. Newer models, such as the Liberty, maintained the boxy look of the old Jeeps but with sleeker, smoother body panels and a higher center of gravity.

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