It was the invention that General Dwight D. Eisenhower credited with turning World War II around. It also was invented in our own backyard. This year, the Bantam Jeep celebrates its 70th anniversary right it its hometown, Butler.
“A lot of people [who] grew up here don’t even know that the Jeep was invented right here,” said Jack Cohen, executive director of the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau.
In order to draw attention to the anniversary and historical importance of the Jeep, the bureau will play host to the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival August 12- 14.
“This is one of the biggest inventions to come out of Butler," Cohen said. "General Eisenhower and General Marshall both said that the Jeep was one of the main reasons we won the war. For such respected people to make such a statement shows the importance of the vehicle.”
According to Cohen, the U.S. government put out a call to industry to create a car in only 40 days that could withstand the rigors of war. Located in the heart of Butler, the Bantam Company rose to the occasion and created the hardy little Jeep.
“They test drove it in our farm country then drove it down to the U.S. Army in D.C.,” Cohen said.
The Army liked the prototype and ordered 70 more Jeeps. Soon they increased the order to 3,000.
“They thought it was a great little vehicle,” Cohen said.
Perhaps it was too good.
The government took the plans for the Jeep from Bantam and turned them over to Ford and Willys, who used Bantam’s plans to build their own models, said Cohen.
“I guess they thought the little guys couldn’t keep up with their demand," he said. "They then gave Bantam a contract to make military trailers, but it wasn’t the same."
The Bantam Company eventually closed, but the building remains in the heart of the city of Butler.
“We are hoping to turn it into a museum eventually,” Cohen said.
The visitors bureau has big plans for the 70th anniversary celebration. For starters, they hope to have the largest gathering of Jeeps in history for their parade.
“We are expecting thousands to attend and plan to set the World Guinness Book of Records for the longest Jeep parade,” said Cohen.
There already are more than 350 jeeps registered to participate.
“We have one of the original Bantams that will be in front of the parade,” Cohen said.
Cohen said the event will attract Jeep owners and enthusiasts from throughout the country.
“We have over 120,000 Jeep owners in the Butler area alone,” Cohen said.
The Jeeps will be arranged in order of decade created in the parade. The entertainment will vary from decade to decade as well.
Other Bantam Jeep festivities planned at the Butler Fairgrounds include a history pavilion highlighting the history of the Jeep; Jeep Show ’n Shine, a display of Jeeps in 15 different classes; Jeep Playground, an off-road course for Jeeps; Jeep Marketplace for vendors and others; Jeep Trading Post for those who wants to sell Jeep parts; Camp Bantam, excursions at Moraine State Park; Little Jeepers Playground, complete with a Jeep paddle car; and a concert.
Thousands are expected to attend the festival, including Cranberry resident John Schaefer, who plans to bring his restored 1991 Jeep.
“I bought it from some guy who had it in the woods," he said. "It needed a ton of work, but I wanted it."
Schaefer, who works Bluebird Bus Sales in Richland, said he knows Cohen from his business.
“That’s how I found out about the festival," he said. "He got me interested in the whole thing; I didn’t even have a Jeep when he first told me about it."
It didn’t take much to convince Schaefer to get one. He already admired a 1947 Willys Jeep at the lot where he stores his RV. When Cohen started talking about the festival, he knew he had to have a Jeep.
“It’s like a boat or a motorcycle, kind of like a third vehicle that you have more for recreation than anything else,” he said.
As more people register, Cohen gets more and more excited for the festival.
“We want to have a party," he said "We are proud of this invention and the ingenuity that came out of Butler County and want to celebrate it.”
For more information visit www.bantamjeepfestival.com or call the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau at 724-234-4619.