World War II dominated American culture in the first half of the 1940's. Although the war began in 1939 in Europe, the United States did not get officially drawn into it until the infamous attack by Japanese military against the American naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941. The next day, President Franklin Roosevelt declared war against Japan. Shortly after that, Germany declared war against the United States. The complete transition of American industry to support the war effort soon began. Within a few short months, the entire nation concentrated all their might into war preparation. Men around the nation enlisted or were drafted into the military, women previously home bound took jobs in factories, and production began - except instead of building for peacetime, they were creating machines of war. Many automotive companies stopped car production altogether and created tanks, airplanes and other military vehicles. Three companies began making all-purpose vehicles - the first SUVs - that would become popularly known as Jeeps. They were the small firm of Bantam, the Indiana-based Willys-Overland, and the most famous of all, Ford. The entire automotive market had mobilized, with the final hold-out being Crosley, whose practical cars proved attractive due to their excellent gas mileage, at least until the government figured out how to best use their small factory for the war effort. Between February 1942 and October 1945, civilian cars would not be made.
1945 Dodge WC Half-Ton Pick-Up
- The Dodge brothers, Horace and John, earned a reputation for the manufacture of high-quality automotive parts since they established their business in 1900. Some of their early clients were Henry Ford and Ransom E. Olds. Recognizing the marketability of their brand, they began making cars in their entirety as the Dodge Brothers in 1914. Bad blood had developed between the Dodges and Ford, who stopped paying dividends on stocks he'd sold to the brothers in lieu of payment. John Dodge was quoted as saying that, "Someday, people who own a Ford are going to want an automobile." When three Dodge Touring Sedans proved sturdy and highly capable during a raid in the famous Pancho Villa Expedition in Mexico in 1916, it served to heighten respect for Dodge vehicles.
- By the beginning of 1920, Dodge had established themselves as the second highest-selling producer of cars in the United States. Then they were struck by a double tragedy. John Dodge died unexpectedly from pneumonia in January. In December of the same year, his brother Horace was also dead. Speculation is that he drank himself to death in grief over the loss of his brother. Their widows had little interest in running the family business and, by 1928, Dodge had lost its status and sales had declined substantially. They sold out to the smaller Chrysler Company in 1928, which proved a windfall for Walter Chrysler.
- In 1929, Chrysler introduced their Dodge pickup truck line which, a decade later, would include the WC half-ton pickup. Its sleek, streamlined Art Deco grille design made the vehicle not only practical but aesthetically appealing, too. Only slight modifications were made on the Dodge WC during its entire production run, which stretched from 1928 to 1947, excepting the war years.
- Between 1942 and 1945, Dodge produced T214 trucks for the American military. These trucks initially included military-style fenders that proved ineffectual in muddy driving conditions, so they reverted to the flat-piece-curved-to-fit-the-wheel mud guards. These proved successful enough to remain a staple for their post-war truck production as well. They also had a two-way power take off, which allowed the front shaft to operate winches and pumps, while the rear shaft could operate power equipment, including mowers and saws. This was an asset in civilian life, as well as during its original military usage, in industry, agriculture, firefighting, et.al. The wartime chassis became the basis for the 1939 design, and remained as part of the WC through 1947. The Power Wagon remained very popular after the war, as many veterans coming back from serving overseas had been impressed with its power. Dodge also created the phrase “Job Rated” around this time to highlight their reputation for power, economy and reliability.
Jeep (1941 to today)
- In 1941, the U.S. Government approached 135 automotive companies to design a 4-wheel drive renaissance vehicle for the military. They needed it to weigh less than 1,300 lbs. and be able to endure harsh conditions. They also needed designs to be submitted within only 49 days of receipt of the request. Only two companies responded: the small Indiana-based Willys-Overland Motors, and the western Pennsylvania-based American Bantam Car Company. Although Bantam's design proved the prototype selected by the government, the Willys engine was regarded as superior, so they received the bulk of the commission, at least until Ford was recruited to produce them, too.
- Over 700,000 of Bantam’s BRC, Willys’ Quad and Ford’s Pygmy Jeeps were produced during the war. They became so popular that production continued after the war and to this day.
- Jeep aficionados have debated the origin of the name "Jeep" since it was first adopted. The traditional assertion is that the name came out of the initials that designated it a "General Purpose" or "Government Purpose" vehicle. Both of these abbreviate to GP, which sounds like Jeep. Voila! Some have discounted this as inaccurate, though. They argue that Ford's code letters for the car, GPW, stood for something completely different: G for government, P for its eighty-inch wheelbase, and W for the Willys-Overland-designed engine they used for it. Hardly the stuff from which Jeep is made. There are other theories, though. One popular one harkens back to a popular comic strip character - Popeye the Sailor Man. Popeye was first introduced in 1929 by Elsie Crisler Segar. He became hugely popular, appearing in comic strips and cartoons. Seven years after he was created, he developed a friendship with a supernatural, trans-dimensional animal called Eugene the Jeep. That was in 1936. Eugene the Jeep was a strange-looking but funny little yellow creature often mistaken for being a dog despite that he walked on his hind legs, and that he spoke, even though the only word he ever said was "Jeep." Eugene's magical abilities were remembered by soldiers who were so impressed with the maneuverability of the vehicle that they named it after him. A third theory traces the history of the word back to 1914, when military mechanics identified any four-wheeled vehicle between one ton and one-and-a-half tons that had been untried or untested as a "jeep." Whichever is right - and we would like to think that at least one, if not all three, of these is right - the word has become a part of the language.
- After the war, Willys patented the name Jeep and continued to produce them until they were sold to Kaiser Motors in 1950. Kaiser then sold them to the American Motor Company (AMC) in 1970, and Chrysler bought AMC in 1987. Fiat took over Chrysler in 2007.
1949 Hudson Commodore
- The Hudson Motor Car Company was the vision of one man: Roy Chapin (1888 to 1936). In 1909, Chapin convinced a number of Detroit-based businessmen, including the wealthy department store entrepreneur Joseph Hudson (1846 to 1912) to enter the automotive industry. Chapin's Essex Motors Company, a subsidiary of Hudson, would be the first automobile producer to offer an affordable enclosed vehicle. That was in 1922. Chapin also led the charge to create the first transcontinental highway, what would become the Lincoln Highway (which includes the modern Route 30 through Pennsylvania). Chapin's business savvy was such that President Herbert Hoover selected him to be Secretary of Commerce in his Cabinet in the final months of his single term in office, from August 1932 to March 1933. After that, Chapin returned to Hudson to focus on preserving his car company during the Great Depression.
- Hudson survived as its own entity until 1954, at which time it entered into a peaceful merger with the Nash-Kelvinator Company and became an integral part of the American Motors Company (AMC). In 1970, under the leadership of Roy Chapin, Jr., AMC acquired the Kaiser Jeep Corporation. Chrysler absorbed AMC and all of its subsidiaries in 1987, prior to their own merger with the German Daimler-Benz Group in 1998, becoming DaimlerChrysler AG. After some confusing stock sales and swaps, the struggling Chrysler fell under the control of the United States Department of the Treasury, who sold their shares to the Italian-based Fiat Corporation beginning in 2011. So, although the name Hudson was retired decades ago, their story continues to survive through Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
- The Commodore was produced by Hudson between 1941 and 1952 (excluding, of course, the war years). They were the largest and most luxurious line that Hudson produced. 1948 introduced the third generation Commodore, and the first post-war design. This year inaugurated the "Monobuilt" design, which Hudson called their ‘step-down‘ configuration. The passenger compartment was created within the frame of the car, so you would step over the door frame and down into the car. It was the first design of its kind, making Commodores easier to get into than any other cars on the market at the time. Side effects of this new style of car production were that it not only proved to be a safer and more grounded vehicle, but it also provided a more comfortable drive as well.
- Hudson also has another significant distinction: in 1939, they were the first major automotive company to hire a woman in a position of authority. They acknowledged the importance of women in the purchase of family automobiles and brought in Elizabeth Ann Thatcher, a college graduate with a degree in Industrial Design, who offered invaluable input in the design of their automobiles. During her short stint at Hudson - she was only there until 1941 - Betty Thatcher's improvements included the addition of exterior side lighting, as well as interior instrument panels, trim fabrics, and other niceties. Alas, Betty was still a product of her time, and she resigned to become a homemaker after marrying Joe Oros, another automobile designer who left his mark on the automobile industry as one of the guiding lights behind the Ford Mustang a few decades later.