Original Source Documents:
Contributor: Bill Spear
This is an excerpt of General Anthony C. McAuliffe’s 1963 personal oral history:
McA: I told you how the jeep started with the Bantam Car Company of Butler, Pennsylvania.
Q: I wish you’d repeat that for the tape.
McA: Well, the first jeep came from the Bantam Car Company which was located in Butler, Pennsylvania and which hadn’t done very well in selling automobiles, but they had these first two jeeps, and they brought them to Washington. One of the fellows was Harry Payne. I was impressed by the jeeps, and I got hold of other people in G-3, and they were impressed, including Bedell Smith, later Ambassador to Russia, who was then in General Marshall’s office. And we put the jeep through all the tests and so on, and they turned out fine. Smith was so impressed that he got General Marshall to look at the thing – and General Marshall called me in and told me to get the Bantam Car Company in production on the jeep, to see that they tooled up. Now, you understand, this was not my job at all, but when the Chief of Staff tells you, “I want you to go up there tomorrow”, you go.
Well, I went to Colonel Aurand and I got two of the best production men, one a civilian and one an officer – and the three of us went up to the Bantam Car Company, looked at their plant, looked at the size of the place, and so on. These guys decided that they could make 200 jeeps a week there, or something like that, maybe 100, 150. So, I told the guy to go ahead and tool up for 100 or 150 and they’d get the money. I just accepted the fellow’s word. This is the way you operate during wartime.
So, we came back, and I told General Marshall that they had the capacity to make 150 or 200 jeeps a week but they could tool up faster than anyone else. He was a little disappointed because he knew the demand was going to be great.
After Bantam got into production and jeeps started coming out, then the British and the Russians and all the rest were crazy about the jeep, and the total orders ran something like 30,000 or 40,000. So, the Quartermaster General had charge of procurement of vehicles, and he put this thing out for bids. We changed the specifications some: cut the weight down and made it very difficult. They told me they even weighed the paint. Anyhow, Ford won the contract, and he figured he couldn’t handle it himself, so he split it and gave half to Willys Overland and Bantam Car was out.
Q: It is sad.
McA: Yes, they were the guys who developed the thing.
Q: They didn’t even give them royalties on it or anything.
McA: No, there was nothing patentable on it, I guess. They got nothing, except that we later dreamed up a one-ton trailer that you hitched to the back of the jeep, and I got the contract for Bantam on a negotiated basis; it wasn’t put out for bids. I thought we owed them a great deal. The jeep story has appeared half a dozen times but always inaccurately. Everybody who was associated with the jeep claimed credit for having been the one who discovered it. Actually, the fellow who really did it was this fellow Harry Payne, a roughneck who didn’t know anything technically about anything but just happened to bring those two prototypes down from Butler, Pennsylvania. He was a big talker, sort of a public relations fellow, got around well. He did more than any single individual to promote the jeep.