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The story of the Jeep — then to now

The Jeep was first introduced for military use, but has undergone continuous reinvention to become a loved civilian vehicle.
Thursday, April 24, 2014 - 06:00
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No one knew at the time that this Jeep would become an American Icon. (Courtesy: U.S. Army)

Today’s average citizen seldom considers the Jeep an offspring of a hero. However, there are still those tried-and-true followers who connect the present to the Jeep’s star-spangled past. Transformation into the vehicle we all know and love today was not without difficulty, and the latest version of the vehicle is posh compared with its WW II grandfather.

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People mover needed
The decision that led to motorized troop transportation was not without early precedent. As the German army marched on Paris in 1914, French troops were dispatched to the front in commandeered Renault taxis. These taxis were considered to be the first use of motorized vehicles for troop transport. According to military vehicle historian Jim Gilmore, “the taxis were not used for day-to-day operations, but they did provide the French with effective transportation in a time of need.”

The U.S. relied heavily on horses and motorcycles during World War I. However, the cost of food and handling of horses took a toll on strategic advantages. Motorcycles proved no better, with limited carrying capacity and the need for each driver to be thoroughly trained. Trucks were, and still would be used, but they were cumbersome and frequently got stuck in rough terrain. “In the late 30’s, Germany used more horses than any other army,” said Gilmore.

The Howie Machine Gun Carrier was known as “The Belly Flopper.” (Courtesy: U.S. Army)

The U.S. made several attempts to build a machine that would effectively replace the horse. As late as 1937, the military experimented with a vehicle called the Howie Machine Gun Carrier, nicknamed “Belly Flopper” because of the way GI’s would lay on their stomachs to drive the vehicle. Reaching speeds up to 30mph, the two-passenger, machine-gun equipped car was fast, but lacked an adequate suspension system. The ride was so rough that its occupants had to lie on mattresses.

Although debated by some as propaganda, the highly publicized mechanized advancement into Poland, Belgium and France would provide every incentive for the U.S. to speed up the process of developing more suitable mechanized transportation.

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