Many times the question is asked ‘who designed the Jeep’, enter the name of Karl Probst sometimes called ‘The Father of the Jeep’. He is credited with designing the Jeep in many Jeep publications and WW2 Jeep websites. Probst was hired by the Bantam Company and is said to have designed the Jeep from the ground up in 18 hours or two days depending on which story you read. Anyone who has any engineering shop floor experience will find this hard to believe. It must be remembered that the Bantam company had a lot of experience building small cars and had already submitted plans to the US Army for a small reconnaissance car in the 1930’s. So what really happened, who designed the Jeep.In 1940 the U.S. Army had contacted 135 companies asking them to supply a working prototype four wheel drive small reconnaissance car. Only two of the companies responded, Willys asked for more time but this was refused. So the Bantam Company took on the nearly impossible task of supply a working vehicle within the deadline of 49 days on its own.
The Army had very little idea of what it really wanted. In the middle of June 1940 Harold Crist the Bantam plant manager had given Bob Brown of the Army Quartermaster’s Corps (QMC) some Bantam blueprints and engineering drawings. Shortly after the QMC came up with some specifications a weight limit of 1300 lbs, and a wheel base of 75 inches, (the same as the Bantam). Working with the QMC Harold Crist had come up with a rough sketch of the vehicle, this appears to have happened around the 1st of July 1940. The deadline for the outline bid drawings had to be submitted by the 22nd of July and the full blueprints supplied with a working prototype by 23rd of September 1940.
This was a problem for Bantam, they needed someone who could put together some outline bid drawings fast and then be able to draw the full blueprints for the vehicle. Frank Fenn the president of Bantam hired Karl Probst on the 17th of July 1940. By this time Harold Crist, Chet Hemphling and Ralph Turner had already been working on the new vehicle and had a mock up already put together. Karl Probst started straight away with the help of Harold Crist and his team, the bid drawing number 08370-Z was complete by the 21st of July.
The final blueprints of the prototype were drawn up by Probst and his team, with some of the drawings coming from outside manufacturers who supplied parts for the vehicle. Also some original Bantam designs were included in the final drawings. The drawings were actually draw up from measurements and photo’s of the vehicle being made by Harold Crist and his team, the Jeep came before the drawings.
Harold Crist drove the first Bantam Jeep from the Bantam factory in Butler, Pennsylvania to Fort Holabird, Maryland with Karl Probst, getting there just before the deadline on the 23rd of September 1940.
So who designed the Jeep, the credit should go to Harold Crist, Chet Hemphling, Ralph Turner and the unnamed Bantam employees who worked as a team, no one person should be given credit. Karl Probst did not design the Jeep, he produced the drawings for the Jeep. His part however in the Jeep story was very important because without his talents, Bantam would have never completed the drawings on time.
Karl Probst died in 1962 and there is no evidence that he ever claimed to have designed the Jeep, he was always proud of his drawings. So how and when did this myth start, before 1962 there is very little written about Probst having much to do with the Jeep. It would appear that after his death, some misinformed people got hold of the wrong end of the stick and started writing articles about WW2 Jeeps and who designed the Jeep. Unfortunately this meant that the people who deserved the credit have been forgotten.