The Autobiography of a Jeep

Produced and released 1943 by U.S. Office of War Information, 35mm black and white negative, 1.37:1 screen ratio, mono sound, 10 mins.

sketch from Life, 1942




"It was the job of the Office of War Information's Overseas Branch, producer of this film, to convey both facts and feelings about American democratic life to audiences abroad, military and civilian. OWI films are propagandistic and patriotic, befitting their wartime mission, and at their best resonate with a heartfelt optimism. The Autobiography of a Jeep is narrated by the jeep itself in an unassuming, populist voice. The film interweaves a lighthearted vision of a democratic vehicle with accurate facts about the jeep's creation, size, and capabilities. The script was by Joseph Krumgold, whose direct prose also brought him Newberry Medals for his children's books And Now Miguel (1954) and Onion John (1960). Director Irving Lerner had honed his documentary skills at the Frontier Films collective in the late 1930s and after the war directed critically acclaimed, minuscule-budget independent features. As it became clear in 1940 that Germany and Italy were racing victoriously through Europe and North Africa, the U.S. Army issued specifications for a simple, rugged vehicle to be created within forty-nine days. The first working prototype was displayed before the September deadline. By the end of the war in 1945, more than seven hundred thousand jeeps had been produced by the Willys-Overland Company, owner of the design, and the Ford Motor Company. The film recounts the origin of the name "jeep" in the quick pronunciation of "G.P."--although the initials initially came not from "General Purpose" but from Ford's duller production abbreviation: "G" for government vehicle and "P" being the symbol for eighty-inch-wheelbase cars. When The Autobiography of a Jeep was released midwar in 1943, the Allies could look to successes reflected in the shots of President Roosevelt riding in a jeep to meet with Churchill at Casablanca after the victory in North Africa. The film celebrates the American can-do spirit of mass production at the same time as it humanizes the vehicle.... "The rumor is going around that the jeep is here to stay," this film ends prophetically. Postwar jeeps were marketed to returning servicemen as farm and construction vehicles in Willys-Overland ads: "When I get back, I'll get a Jeep. It'll make a swell delivery car!" (quoted from Scott Simon, Treasures from American Film Archives, DVD released 2000 by National Film Preservation Foundation)
FDR rides jeep in North Africa for Casablanca conference 2/43, from FDRL
Jeep pulls torpedo bomber on carrier deck in the Atlantic, from ILN 1943/11/27
MacArthur waves from jeep in Philippines, from ILN 1944/11/25
plasma in jeep to wounded, Time, 1943

First U.S. Army men and equipment pour across the Remagen Bridge; two knocked out jeeps in foreground, 1944/3/11, from Patch-NA
Pfc. Mickey Rooney imitates some Hollywood actors for an audience of Infantrymen of the 44th Division. Rooney is a member of a three-man unit making a jeep tour to entertain the troops, 1945/04/13, from Patch-NA
Jeep, used as a taxi, waits for passengers next to a sign advertising a new restaurant on a highway in Kalaw, Myanmar, 1999/05/12, from AP story


revised 3/7/01 by Schoenherr | Filmnotes