Before the United States entered World War II, it asked American automotive companies to design a fast reconnaissance vehicle for the Army. The American Bantam company produced a prototype, but the company was too small to produce enough vehicles for the war effort. The Army gave the design to Willys-Overland and Ford, and the two companies produced about 640,000 jeeps during the war.
On average, each infantry regiment in World War II was provided with 145 jeeps. The vehicles were so versatile that they found use in almost every application imaginable, from firefighting and ambulance use to powering woodcutting equipment and serving as impromptu train engines. Ernie Pyle famously rated it alongside the Coleman GI stove as the most indispensable piece of non-combat equipment a GI could have.
Jeeps found their way into many countries during and after the war. Approximately 30 percent of the total production run went to Great Britain or to the Soviet Union under the lend-lease program. In the Philippines, locals salvaged abandoned jeeps after the war and converted them into taxis, capitalizing on the durability and long lifespan the design offered.
No one knows for sure where the term "jeep" originated. The vehicle was designated as a "GP" or "general purpose" vehicle, but many of the infantrymen that used them did not know this designation. Another theory suggests that the jeep was named after a character in the Popeye the Sailor comics, a mythical creature that could teleport around and get into impossible places.