1906-1939 Jeep

In 1933, Willys-Overland introduced the 77 (above), powered by the same four-cylinder engine that would eventually power the World War II jeep. See more Jeep pictures.
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If the jeep represented a case of "love at first sight," it was also the culmination of a long search for a go-anywhere sort of utility vehicle. A vehicle that could answer the problems of supply and maximum utility. Almost from the dawn of the twentieth century there had been efforts to develop a machine with four rather than two driving wheels.

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As early as 1902, in Hartford, Connecticut, Colonel Albert Pope's Electric Vehicle Company had built a huge five-ton truck. Power for this unusual machine came from four electric motors, one located behind each of its chain-driven wheels.

Then came the FWD, a product of the Four Wheel Drive Auto Company of Clin-tonville, Wisconsin. In 1906 a blacksmith named Otto Zachow and his partner, William Besserdich, had become sales agents for the Reo motorcar. Their first sale was to Dr. W. H. Finney, who evidently wasted little time in getting his car stuck in the mud. This motivated Zachow to develop some means of applying power to all four wheels, rather than just two.

The result of the blacksmith's efforts was a practical double -Y universal joint that, encased in a ball and-socket arrangement, allowed the driver to steer the vehicle while both the front and rear wheels received power.

Thus was born the FWD Auto Company. The organization stumbled along, one short step ahead of its creditors, until 1911, when its vehicles came to the attention of the United States Army. An FWD truck was subjected to intensive testing, with impressive results; but no orders were forthcoming -- yet. Interest renewed, however, when war broke out in Europe in 1914. That fall, two FWD trucks -- one of three-ton capacity, the other a five-tonner -- were shipped to England for evaluation.

The two machines evidently gave an excellent account of themselves, because an order for 50 additional trucks followed almost immediately. By the end of 1917, nearly 400 FWD trucks were put to use in His Majesty's Army. Closer to home, when a dustup with the infamous Pancho Villa occurred on the Mexican border, the U. S. Quartermaster Corps ordered 147 FWD trucks. Soon the little Clintonville company was delivering 175 trucks each month.

Eventually, domestic and Allied demand combined to outstrip the factory's capacity; and FWD trucks were built under license by Kissel, Mitchell, and Premier. In all, nearly 18,000 of these virtually unstoppable lorries made it to Europe before the Armistice brought the conflict to a close.

Unlike FWD, the Thomas B. Jeffery Company, located in Conch, Wisconsin, some distance to the south of Clintonville, was an established builder of passenger cars and trucks. Before the turn of the century, the organization had manufactured the Rambler bicycle in substantial numbers; and commencing in 1902, the factory turned to the production of automobiles under the same brand name.

Within a year, 1,500 Rambler cars had been built and sold, at $750 a copy. The figure may seem modest by modern standards, but in 1902 it was enough to propel the Rambler into second place in the infant auto industry, right behind Ransom Olds's curved-dash runabout.

Learn more about four-wheel-drive vehicles and how they contributed to the development of the jeep on the next page.

For more information on Jeeps, see:

  • History of Jeep
  • Consumer Guide New Jeep Prices and Reviews
  • Consumer Guide Used Jeep Prices and Reviews