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Toledo to celebrate Willys Jeep’s 75th anniversary

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1946 Jeep CJ-2A. Photos courtesy FCA.

Corporal Klinger, the Mud Hens, and Jeep. Even to Ohioans, there are no stronger associations with Toledo than these three, the latter due to the off-road vehicle brand’s continued presence in the city for decades despite a succession of parent companies. To celebrate that presence, the city of Toledo has announced a 75th birthday bash for Jeep to take place later this year.

Jeep’s origins in Toledo begin long before World War II, specifically in 1911 when John North Willys moved the Overland automobile company from Indianapolis to the old Pope-Toledo factory north of the city’s downtown. It was in Toledo that he renamed the company Willys-Overland and brought the automaker to prominence.

It was also in Toledo – specifically in the plant’s Parkway building – that Willys began building the MA and MB quarter-ton military jeeps in 1941. While Bantam in Butler, Pennsylvania, generally gets credit for developing and delivering the first prototype jeep in 1940 and Ford in Dearborn stepped in to help build the Willys-design jeep in volume during the war, it was Willys that developed and sold the postwar civilian Jeep, using the same Toledo assembly lines.


Jeep assembly line in 1964.

Those assembly lines would run uninterrupted in the Parkway building through at least three of the Jeep brand’s parent companies, until Chrysler demolished part of that building in 2002 and the rest of it in 2006, leaving only a circa 1915 smokestack with Overland spelled out in bricks as a vestige of the original Willys factory. (The nearby Stickney assembly plant, which Autolite built in 1942, turned out Jeeps from 1964 through 1991; other buildings in the complex were demolished as early as 1979.)

Chrysler’s Toledo North assembly plant, which came online in 2001, has taken over Jeep assembly duties, and an agreement between Fiat Chrysler and the city of Toledo late last year ensured that Toledo will remain the birthplace of Jeep Wranglers well into the future.

While city leaders in Butler have organized an annual festival to celebrate Bantam jeeps and their descendants since 2011 (and last year celebrated the Bantam jeep’s 75th anniversary), city leaders in Toledo – including some former Jeep and Chrysler employees – decided to host their own 75th anniversary celebration this year.

“We want to honor the past workers who created this success and reflect on it, from the Jeep’s role in the World War II victory to what the plant meant to the growth of Toledo and the standard of living people got from working there,” Bruce Baumhower, event organizer and president of the United Auto Workers Local 12, told the Toledo Blade.

The event, slated for August 13 in downtown Toledo, will include a parade and car show as well as exhibits and possibly the screening of vintage Jeep films; for more information, visit Butler’s Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival is scheduled for the weekend of June 10-12; for more information, visit