One of the longest-running myths about Army jeeps is the idea that you can buy a jeep in a crate for $50. This idea has been around now at least since WW II. I heard the story and saw ads off and on throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s. The story was consistently the same: you could get Army jeeps in crates for $50; they only need a battery and tires; but you have to get your friends together and buy 10 (or 50) at a time. A more recent take on low priced jeeps is, that there was a government-owned cave full of factory-new M-151s ("somewhere out west")-- you could buy them for $1500 each, but of course you had to buy 10 at a time.
Army Jeep Ads Reinforcing the Myth
The "cheap surplus jeep" story was reinforced by ads that ran for decades in the back of Popular Mechanics and other magazines. They promised to tell you -- for a fee -- how to buy government surplus. The ads usually featured a headline reading: "Jeeps $50" over a stock drawing of an Army jeep. The text said the publication would open the door on fabulous surplus bargains, including jeeps, trucks, power tools and other desirable goods.
If you actually sent in your money and bought their publication, it was just a copy of a pamphlet -- available free from the U.S. Government -- that explained how to bid on surplus property. Basically a scam that preyed on people's lack of knowledge.
A Military Jeep in a Crate: Was it ever true?
Yes, jeeps were packed in crates. Jeeps were produced and packed this way for shipment to U.S. forces and countries like England and the Soviet Union who the U.S. supplied during WW II. At the Ford Motor Company assembly plant in Richmond, CA, about 70% of production was boxed due to their close proximity to the San Francisco port.
Boxing up a jeep was expensive and time consuming so it was only done when absolutely necessary. Jeeps that were crated were complete vehicles, not a box of parts -- windshields were folded, wheels taken off and a few other things done to minimize the cubage. Very few, if any, of these crated jeeps remained in the United States, even during the war. After more than sixty years, there are probably none left. Several organizations and dealers have had a substantial reward offer for years for anyone who can produce one and no one has claimed the money.
WW II factory photos show jeeps being packed into coffin-like fully sheathed crates. A Ford Truck publication (Form 3679-T) from early in World War II is titled "Instructions for Unpacking & Assembly of Boxed Vehicle" referring to the 1/4 Ton 4x4 Ford GPW, the Ford-manufactured jeep. That eight-page document shows the crated jeep and tells how to remove it and prep it for service (photos from the document, right). A WW II poster titled We Need Lumber shows a factory photo of a jeep being enclosed in the same type of wooden box.
Very few, if any, of these crated jeeps remained in the United States. At the Ford Motor Company assembly plant in Richmond, CA, about 70% of production was boxed due to their close proximity to the San Francisco port.
It is also noted in wartime production records that some jeeps were boxed after assembly, to protect them until final disposition was determined. These were different from the factory-crated jeeps in that these were fully operational, not partially disassembled.
Fate of World War II Jeeps
Although the jeep was loved and respected by the GIs during the war, most ended up like this:
Vehicle bone yard at end of World War II.
After World War II there was a period of time when returning veterans, farmers and a few other favored categories of people could buy jeeps directly from the government for $50 or other very low prices. It is not known if any of these were in crates but if there were any it was very few. Most surplus Army jeeps in the U.S. were used vehicles from stateside bases.
Richard Koch and his Ford GPW, 1946. Photo courtesy of Dr. Richard Koch.
Richard Koch, a WW II Vet (today Dr. Richard Koch, an esteemed medical researcher) told me that in late 1945 or early 1946 he bought a jeep directly from a shipping facility in Martinez, CA, near San Francisco. He arrived there to find many large crates stacked three high. After paying $500, a forklift brought one down for him and the workers helped uncrate it, brand new from the factory. He says it had its wheels already mounted; all he had to do was connect the battery and drive it home. He also bought a matching Army trailer for an additional $50.
Manuals and factory photos of jeeps crated for shipping all show partial disassembly with wheels off. Therefore, Koch's Ford GPW (photo, left) was probably boxed, fully assembled, after production to protect it until the Army determined its disposition. Based on the hood number, this vehicle was most likely manufactured in June 1945 at the Richmond, CA Ford factory, not far from Martinez. Jeep production ended in August 1945 during the last days of World War II and, lucky for Koch, this jeep never went into active service.
Although there are other stories like Koch's, the jeep sales program dried up pretty quickly as civilian production resumed and Willys came out with the CJ series. Jeeps were given away to Allies and also sold outside the U.S. occasionally, but many were also dumped to prevent their return to the U.S. where it was feared they would glut the market and take factory jobs away from vets.
Richmond’s Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant Effect on the War and Richmond
An aerial view from about 1946 of Ford Motor Company's Richmond, California, Assembly Plant. The plant opened in 1931; in 1934 it produced 56,016 cars with 2,500 men on the payroll, which was capacity. From the Collections of The Henry Ford. P.833.92550.25
The Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant in Richmond, California, was the largest assembly plant to be built on the West Coast and its conversion to wartime production during World War II aided the Nation's war effort. Built in 1930 during the Great Depression, the assembly plant was measures nearly 500,000 square feet. The factory was a major stimulant to the local and regional economy and was an important development in Richmond's inner harbor and port plan. Ford became Richmond's third largest employer, behind Standard Oil and the Santa Fe Railroad. It is also an outstanding example of 20th-century industrial architecture designed by architect Albert Kahn, known for his "daylight factory" design, which employed extensive window openings that became his trademark. The main building is comprised of a two-story section, a single-story section, a craneway, a boiler house and a shed canopy structure over the railroad track.
General Stuart Light Tanks at the Ford Assembly Building, awaiting shipment to the Pacific Theater of War Photo courtesy of the Richmond Museum of History Collection
To ensure that America prepared for total war by mobilizing all the industrial might of the United States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt banned the production of civilian automobiles during WWII. The Richmond Ford Assembly Plant switched to assembling jeeps and to putting the finishing touches on tanks, half-tracked armored personnel carriers, armored cars and other military vehicles destined for the Pacific Theater. By July of 1942, military combat vehicles began flowing into the Richmond Ford plant to get final processing before being transported out the deep-water channel to the war zones. The "Richmond Tank Depot" as the Ford plant was then called, helped keep American fighting men supplied with up-to-the-minute improvements in their battle equipment. In mobilizing the wartime production effort to its full potential, Federal military authorities and private industry began to work closely together on a scale never seen before in American history. This laid the groundwork for what became known as the "Military Industrial Complex" during the Cold War years. This Assembly Plant was one cog in the mobilization of the "Arsenal of Democracy" and a historic part of what is today's industrial culture of the United States.
After the war, the devastation to the local economy as a result of the closing of the Kaiser shipyards would have been crippling had it not been for the continued production of the Ford Plant. The last Ford was assembled in February 1953, with the plant being closed in 1956 because of the inability to accommodate increased productivity demands. In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake severely damaged the plant.
Rejuvenation of Historic Ford Assembly Building - Home to
After the war, Ford resumed assembly of civilian automobiles until the plant was closed in 1956, rendered obsolete by technological changes in automobile manufacturing. The devastation to the local economy as a result of the closing of the Richmond Shipyards would have been crippling had it not been for the continued production of the Ford Plant. The last Ford was assembled in February 1953, with the plant being closed in 1956 and production transferred to the San Jose Assembly Plant because of the inability to accommodate increased productivity demands.
The building had remained vacant for almost half a century. In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake severely damaged the plant. After the earthquake, the City of Richmond made repairs to the building prepared the Ford Assembly building for rehabilitation. The City of Richmond repaired and prepared the Ford Assembly building for rehabilitation and selected Orton Development as the developer of the rehabilitation project. In 2008, after the building's rehabilitation was completed, tenants including SunPower Corporation and Mountain Hardware made the building their new home. The craneway of the building is also used for banquets, weddings, and corporate events. It is now used as part as the focal point of the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park.
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