Where did the word “jeep” come from?


Jeep? Where did the word come from?

The jeep. What does “jeep” mean?

If you do a search on the Internet, there is a huge amount of disinformation concerning how the quarter-ton came to be called the “jeep”.  Some of the posters claim that it might have come from the slurring of the initials for “General Purpose Vehicle” or “GP”. Some go on to claim that the 1/4-ton was called a “general purpose vehicle”. This is not true but there is truth about at least part of it.

Herbert Rifkind in his Jeep ? Its development and procurement under the Quartermaster Corps, 1940-1942 tackled this very question:

The origin and meaning of the word ?jeep? are not too certain. Writing in reply to a query on this subject from the Editor of the Winston Dictionaries, Philadelphia, Pa., the QMC Motor Transport Division on October 30, 1941, stated: “The word ‘jeep’ has no official military status, but over a long period of years has come to mean to Army men a new type of military motor vehicle.” The editor was informed that until the advent of the ¼-ton truck the word had been generally applied to the ½-ton, 4×4, used for command reconnaissance and general cargo purposes.  When the ¼-ton made its debut, it was variously dubbed “jeep,” “baby jeep,” and “peep.”  During the 1941 maneuvers, it was said the Army mechanics and others generally came to refer to it as the “peep,” to distinguish it from the ½-ton “jeep.” QM 095 M-A (Winston, John C., Co.), Major G. H. Vogel to Thomas K. Brown, Jr., Editor, The Winston Dictionaries, October 30, 1941. Other names attached to the ¼-ton about this time were “jeepie,” “son-of-a jeep,” “blitz-buggy,” “bantam,” “puddle jumper,” etc.

Another explanation of the word ?jeep? is that it originated from the slurring of the initial letters of the War Department?s vehicle classification, “general purpose” (G.P.), under which the ¼-ton was listed, into a single monosyllable.  Credence is lent this theory by the fact that an early spelling variation of the word was “geep.”  Regardless of how the name originated, after a ¾-ton model was developed late in 1941 to replace the 1-ton truck, the title of “jeep” was settled permanently on the ¼-ton, apparently by common consent.  On February 19, 1942, Lt. Col. Edwin S. Van Deusen, MT Chief of Procurement and Engineering, speaking before the Metropolitan Chapter, Society of Automotive Engineers, New York City, said that the ¼-ton was “affectionately known to millions now as the ‘jeep’.”


I just love the early jeep history, don’t you?

Of course this discussion does not include the use of the word jeep prior to Second World War.  For that you will need to consult different sources.

No one can be certain about when the term “jeep” first came into common usage.  Merriam-Websters – Online Dictionary states the jeep is “a small general-purpose motor vehicle with 80-inch wheelbase, 1/4-ton capacity, and four-wheel drive used by the U.S. Army in World War II” also :  a similar but larger and more powerful U.S. army vehicle”. But they don’t explain where the word jeep is derived.

In the book, Hail To The JEEP!  by A. Wade Wells, a Major E.P. Hogan is quoted as saying, “Jeep is an old Army grease-monkey term that dates back to the last war and was used by shop mechanics in referring to any new motor vehicle received for test.  In recent years the word has been used especially by the Armored Force but not in relation to the 1/4-ton.  Just when this generally used term was specifically applied to the vehicle it now describes is hard to say.” This is the passage that Major Hogan is often cited as having writing in an article in Quartmaster Review  in 1941.  Then Lieutenant Hogan wrote two articles forQuartermaster Review in 1941.  The first was entitled “The Bug and the second was “The Story of the Quarter-Ton”.

In the first article published in the March-April 1941 issue, the vehicle is not referred to as a “jeep”.  However, other names such as, “bantam,” “puddle-jumper,” “bug” are specifically mentioned.  Other sources, like Rifkind, tell us it was also called “jeep,” “geep,” “blitz buggy,” and “leaping lena.”

In the September-October, 1941 issue of Quartermaster Review, Hogan referred to the quarter-ton as a “jeep” and a “peep”.  He does not discuss the origin of the name as is often attributed to him.

The name ?Jeep? was finally associated with the quarter-ton on a world-wide basis when Katherine “Katy” Hillyer wrote an article in the Washington Daily News in February, 1941.  Irving “Red” Hausmann was demonstrating the jeep in Washington and Ms. Hillyer, a reporter, was their to cover the story.  According to Mr. Wade after the demonstration was over, she asked what was the thing called. Mr Hausmann, replied, “It’s a Jeep.” Shortly after publication in the newspaper the name “Jeep” was permanently affixed to the little vehicle — except maybe in the Armored Forces which insist that a “jeep” is a 1/2-ton Dodge Command Car.

Jeep is a registered mark of Chrysler Group, LLC.  However, “jeep” is a generic term associated with all WW2 1/4-ton vehicles (and in some cases Dodge Command Cars!)

In many books and websites you see poor Lt. Hogan misquoted about where the name “jeep” came from. But he has some other interesting words as well.

An outstanding feature of the ?bantam? is the success with which four wheel drive has been adapted to it. Its front axle can be used wither as a driving axle or an idling axle and, while the four-wheel drive feature in smaller vehicles is an adaptation of the Army?s usual design, in the “puddle-jumper” the resulting performance has been far greater even than anticipated. “Bugs” are built for maximum cross-country mobility ? an indispensable requirement in modern warfare — which is greatly increased by having power in all four wheels.

Now Hogan was a QMC man but reading this it seems to say that the jeep wasn?t a “new” idea so much as its performance was outstanding.

Also on the Internet you can find an article by the famous “jeep” author, Ray Cowdery. I’ve known Ray for a long time and count him among my “jeep” friends. In the article, How the jeep * got its name?.., Ray seeks to disclose the meaning of jeep and how it became associated with the vehicle during WW2.


Sure the now well known part about Ford GP, “G” for government vehicles and the “P” for 80 inch wheelbase reconnaissance. But other than Ray’s article were is there evidence that “GP” was slurred together to form jeep? Now I will admit that I am in this camp too but I have found dang little evidence.

Evidence has been found in the Army Motors of WW2:   http://www.42fordgpw.com/geep/

May, 1941:

“Distributor shafts on the 1/4-ton 4×4 Ford “GEEPs” are binding or seizing in distributor housing due to apparent lack of lubrication. This is due to the 40-12141 oiler felt inserted in the B-10141 oiler assembly in base of the GP-12124 distributor housing not allowing sufficient lubricant to seep through to keep distributor shaft properly lubricated. It is essential to remove this oiler felt immediately. Take a long pointed needle or any pointed piece of thin wire and bend a very small hook at a 90 degree angle at the pointed end and ?fish? out the felt in the oiler passageway. After oiler felt is removed, oiler should be filled with oil.”
And yet another tidbit!
“Parts lists and maintenance manuals for the 1941, 1/4-ton, 4×4 Ford “GEEP” have been issued as TM 1100 and TM 1101. This should read TM 10-1100 and TM 10-1101. Correct your copies and refer to them as TM 10-1100 and TM 10-1101 in all correspondence.”
Are there any other references to the Ford GP being referred to as “GEEP”?

The other reference that could tie in is that of “general purpose”.  This may be old news to some of you but the jeep was a general purpose vehicle! Now how in the world can that be you ask incredulously? Where do I come up with such heresy? After all it was a command and recon car or lightweight liaison vehicle, right? Well, I have been doing some research into some early documents.

The earliest specifications for what would become the jeep called for an armored windshield for the driver. Apparently, this was done to expedite the process of procuring the vehicle. This would put it in the Ordnance class of vehicles. And in fact it was briefly in the hands of the Ordnance Committee. After further study it was recommended to be turned over to the QM committee.

So why do I say that this is a general purpose vehicle. The Quartermaster only procured general purpose vehicles. These were in the form of either Administrative (like a staff car) or tactical (the jeep would be one of those). In fact, evidence of this is stated in AR 850-15 as quoted by Book 120 Field Artillery, Automotive Instruction, 1941 Edition:

“Classification: General-Purpose Motor Vehicles?All wheeled vehicles adapted for general hauling purposes including general cargo, ammunition, personnel, and equipment; and for towing trailers, guns, and other wheeled equipment. Examples: Cargo trucks, dump trucks, passenger vehicles, ambulances.”
“Estimates, Design, Development, Procurement, Maintenance, Storage, and Issue: By the Quartermaster Corps, except the design and development of ambulances, which will be by the Medical Department in collaboration with the Quartermaster Corps.”
The same Book 120 also defines “truck”. Trucks are “motor-propelled vehicles designed primarily for carrying cargo or equipment. They may be used for carrying personnel or for towing purposes.” Still further it provides a chart that lists the Truck, 1/4-ton, 4×4, Ford, 1941. The chart defines “purpose” for us. “The purpose will be indicated by stating the general character of the body or the use for which the vehicle is designed. The trucks maybe for cargo, light repair, reconnaissance, dump, tank, cargo and dump, wrecking, or pick-up.” The jeep’s ( or Geep!) purpose is reconnaissance.

Herbert R. Rifkind in his Jeep – Its development and procurement under the Quartermaster Corps, 1940-1942, states that jeep while no one is certain, of course, may have been derived from general purpose. “The initial letters of the War Department’s vehicle classification, “general purpose” (G.P.), under which the 1/4-ton was listed, into a monosyllable. Credence is lent to this theory by the fact that an early spelling variation of the word was “geep”.”

The other problem I see in the article by Ray is the leap of faith in what the meaning of “GPW” means. The documents displayed clearly show what “GP” means but what about the “W”. It may be “logical” but it is still just an assumption. It could easily stand for “Willys”, “War Department” or “What Happened?” for that matter. Willys because the geeps were patterned after the Willys model. War Department because the WD asked Henry to produce the Willys model. What happened? Because Ford had the deal all sewed up until the government agency “watchdog” over-ruled the QMC and awarded the contract for 16,000 standardized vehicles to Willys because they were the lowest cost.

*-The term used here and throughout my Blog or website relates to the vehicle purchased by the US Army prior to and during World War II BEFORE Willys-Overland trade-marked the name “JEEP”.  The trade-mark “JEEP” is owned by Chrysler Group, LLC.  The use here is only for identification purposes.

The photograph of the Ford GP above is from Lex Schimdt.