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Is Toledo really the Home of the Jeep?

A town in Pennsylvania lays its own claim to the title
Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 11:26 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - It’s a city proud of its Jeep heritage. Thousands of out-of-towners flock there every summer to participate in its annual Jeep Festival. Many residents call their city, “The Home of the Jeep.”

Although it sounds like Toledo, the city is actually Butler, Pennsylvania.

Located 30 miles north of Pittsburgh, the city’s official slogan is, “Birthplace of the Jeep,” but a marker across the street from the courthouse on Main Street gives Butler the title of “Home of the Jeep.”

Butler has hosted the annual Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival since 2011. Businesses, senior centers, churches, and the fire station are among places where you can find painted wooden cutouts of the Jeep every summer. The city has set the Guinness World Record for the longest Jeep parade twice.

“In Butler County, we’re really proud of the creation of the Jeep,” said Jack Cohen, the president of the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau.

Cohen was behind the creation of Butler’s Bantam Jeep Festival ten years ago.

“They say there were four things that saved World War II,” Cohen said. “The creation of the Jeep is one of those four. So we’re right up there with the atom bomb. To me, that’s pretty cool.”

During the war, the Army sought a light off-road reconnaissance vehicle to give the United States the edge in battle.

In 1940, it asked 135 companies in the U.S. to come up with a working prototype within 75 days.

Only two companies responded: The Bantam Car Company in Butler and Willys–Overland Motors in Toledo.

“It wasn’t like you could take an existing truck or an existing car and make modifications,” said Jerry Huber, the chairman of Toledo’s Jeep Festival and retired plant manager of the city’s Jeep manufacturing facility. “The weight requirements were very stringent. It had to have extreme towing capability. They were looking for durability because they didn’t want these things breaking down all over the world.”

Bantam produced the first prototype and won the initial government contract.

But the company only ended up manufacturing 2,675 Jeeps during the war. It couldn’t keep up with demand.

The Army turned to Willys in Toledo. It took over and manufactured roughly 360,000 Jeeps for the war. Ford also contributed 280,000. Bantam continued to produce jeep trailers, making around 75,000 for the war.

Willys kept making Jeeps after the war, but this time for everyday Americans.

“They had the belief and obviously the foresight and wisdom to know that this thing has some potential,” Huber said. “They just had to know where that fit.”

Willys found that perfect fit. Jeeps continue to roll off assembly lines in Toledo 80 years later.

The initial production of the Jeep was a team effort in a time of war. But Huber, a student of the Jeep’s history, said the vehicle wouldn’t be what it is today without Butler.

Cohen agrees.

“They couldn’t do anything without us,” he said. “You might have a mom and a dad, but without either one of those, you’re not there. Every bit of that was here in Butler County.”

Cohen is among those in Butler who proudly call the city, “The Home of the Jeep,” despite its official designation as the vehicle’s birthplace.

Huber says one of those titles works, but not both.

“Identifying Butler as the birthplace for the design of the vehicle works for me. I think that works for most of the Jeep aficionados,” Huber said. “But when you start talking about the home of the Jeep, I think of the longer term: the past, the present, and God-willing the future here because of the impact it has on our community.”

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