Willys-Overland - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The American Treasure Tour blog has been spending a lot of time of late describing many of the specific pieces of history you will find throughout the tour.  Well, today we are going to talk about a man without whom some of our pieces would have never been made.  His name is John Willys, and he was a seller and manufacturer of bicycles during the craze of the late-19th century. After that, he move into the automotive industry.  Not, initially, as a producer, but as a salesman. His name was John Willys (1873 to 1935) and he spent his formative years in upstate New York. As an adult in Elmira, he started a very successful business selling Overland Automobiles.  In fact, he was so successful that, when the Ohio-based Overland Company hit upon financially-difficult times, he bought them out.  That was in 1907.  He started collecting car companies from there, buying and growing his Willys-Overland Company.  By 1915, his was the second largest carmmaker in the United States.

Willys had a knack for over-extending his finances, and his problems became unavoidable in 1919, when a severe workers strike shut down the plant for a number of months.  He called on Walter Chrysler - then a vice-president for GM - to help, offering him an astounding $1 million annual salary to turn the company around.  Chrysler did, but he only stayed for two years before going off to start his own business.  Willys stayed in the automotive industry while also dabbling in politics - he was Ambassador to Poland under President Herbert Hoover, serving from 1930 to 1932, when he returned home to save his ailing Willys-Overland.  They teetered on the edge of bankruptcy through much of the 1930s, despite the relative popularity of their Whippet car.  John died in 1935, but his name survived him with his cars.  

War began in Europe in 1939 four years after John's death, and the American military recognized the need to upgrade their outdated technology.  One thing they needed was a four-wheel drive all-terrain vehicle. In 1940, they solicited 150 car companies to create their wonder car.  Bantam, a hard-on-their-luck Western Pennsylvania producer of automobiles, was the first to respond.  Willys was second.  A distant third would be Ford.  These three companies created what would become the first SUV in America - the Jeep - with Willys producing the majority of the cars for the war effort.  

After the war, Ford stopped producing Jeeps while Bantam declared bankruptcy in 1950.  Willys continued making Jeeps both for the military (Korea and Vietnam would loom large very quickly) and the private sector.  In 1953, Willys sold out to Kaiser Motors, who rarely made a profit on them prior to selling the name to the American Motors Company in 1979. Chrysler bought them out in 1987 only to merge with the Daimler-Benz Company in 1998. Last year, the not-so-glamorous name of the company that runs Jeep is FCA US LLC (FCA = Fiat Chrysler Automobiles).  They still manufacture the car in the United States, in a factory in Toledo, Ohio, not far from where the Willys Company produced the vehicle during World War II.
QUESTION:  What color is Eugene the Jeep, Popeye's friend?
A)  Blue
B)  Green
C)  Purple
D)  Yellow 

SPACE AND BEYOND!  President Dwight D Eisenhower signed a powerful piece of legislation on this day in 1958, which established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  In October the year before, the Soviets launched the world's first satellite, Sputnik. Americans were terrified to discover how far behind they were in space exploration, and the race was on!  Of course, within eleven years the first human beings - Americans - landed on the moon.  You'll have to figure out who won.

QUOTE:  Jeep is America's only real sports car - Enzo Ferrari

ANSWER:  D)  Yellow