Mario Belfiglio

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Willys Overland Company
Mario Belfiglio

The State of Ohio contributed many things to the war effort during World War II. Perhaps one of Ohio's most notable contributions was its war-time industries. One of Ohio's most important factories was the Willys-Overland Motors company, located just outside of Toledo.

Before World War II, Willys-Overland had mostly produced civilian vehicles. When war came, the company began to produce many items for military use, such as trailers, 155mm shells, aircraft parts, rockets, and other military equipment. But the company was most famous for the "Willys MB," better known as the "jeep."

In 1940, the United States Army asked more than 130 different automobile companies to submit designs for a "general purpose personnel or cargo carrier especially adaptable for reconnaissance or command; designated as 1/4-ton four-wheel drive truck, crew of three, wheelbase of no more than 75 (later 80) inches, tracks no more than 47 inches, fold down windshield, 660 lb payload, and be powered by an engine capable of 85 ft-lb (115 Nm) of torque. The most daunting demand, however, was that it have an empty weight of no more than 1300 lbs (590 kg)." Perhaps even more daunting, the companies only had 49 days to deliver a working prototype.

Only two companies, Willys-Overland and the Bantam Car Company, submitted designs. The Bantam design was chosen. However, due to Bantam's small size and limited production capabilities, it was decided that the car would have to be produced somewhere else. Both Ford and Willys-Overland submitted modified versions of Bantam's design, but the Willys design was favored, and they won the contract. In 1941 however, due to increased demand for the Willys design, Ford began to produce the Willys design as well. Ford's version was identical to the Willys design, including fully interchangeable parts, but was known as the Ford GPW. Ford would end up producing roughly 280,000 Ford GPWs before the war's end.

Thus, the stage was set for Willys-Overland to begin to mass produce their design, the "Willys MB," which, as stated above, became more commonly known as the "jeep." Over the course of the war, they would produce approximately 363,000 Jeeps.

The jeep was on its way to becoming an iconic vehicle. In 1941, shortly before mass production of the Willys MB began, Willys-Overland staged a press event in Washington D.C., where they drove the jeep up the capitol steps to show off its power and ruggedness.

Later, when the jeep made it to the front lines, the soldiers fell in love with it. The jeep became known for its reliability and versatility. It was used in almost every capacity: from carrying litters to carrying artillery pieces, from transporting generals to transporting garbage, and from being an assault vehicle to being a messenger vehicle. The jeep was truly a soldier's best friend. This was so much so, in fact, that some German troops believed that every soldier was issued his own jeep!

From a general's standpoint, the vehicle was cheap, effective, and did the job well. General Eisenhower is said to have credited the jeep as one of the three primary tools that helped the Allies win the war.

Today, Willys-Overland no longer exists, but the jeep still lives on. Willys-Overland was bought by Kaiser, which in turn was then bought by Chrysler, who still produces jeeps today. All in all, the Willys-Overland Motors Company certainly embodied the spirit of hard work, excellence, and staying power that Ohioans contributed to World War II.