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The origins of AM General can be traced to 1903, when the Standard Wheel Company of Terre Haute, Indiana, expanded its bicycle operation to include the Overland Automotive Division to manufacture motor vehicles, and the Overland "Runabout" was introduced.
In 1908, John North Willys purchased the Overland Automotive Company, which by then was located in Indianapolis, Indiana. As Runabout sales grew, production was moved in 1908 to the newly purchased Pope-Toledo automobile manufacturing plant in Toledo, Ohio. In 1912 the Willys-Overland Company was formed and, in addition to the Runabout, began producing the Willys-Knight series automobile and the popular "Whippet." In 1936, as the result of a Depression-era bankruptcy reorganization, the company became Willys-Overland Motors, Inc.
In 1940 Willys-Overland Motors, Inc. entered the field of tactical truck development with the design and manufacture of a prototype for America’s first four-wheel drive 1/4-ton utility truck. After a competitive bidding process, Willys-Overland was granted the production contract and began production in 1941. In all, more than 350,000 "
Jeeps" were produced during the 1940’s in support of the war effort.
As part of the war effort, Willys-Overland also became a supplier of munitions and military materials, including the "Robomb", the allied version of the German V-2 rocket, bullet cores, shells, projectiles and parts for aircraft landing gears.
After the war, Willys-Overland began to explore peacetime uses for the popular 4x4 Jeep vehicle. The vehicle that grew out of wartime needs soon became an indispensable machine for peacetime uses. Responding to the commercial applications of the Jeep, Willys-Overland established a worldwide system of distribution and services.
With the outbreak of the Korean conflict, Willys-Overland designed an improved version of the WW II Jeep, the M38 utility truck and its later version the
M38A1. In all, over 150,000 vehicles were produced, including 5,000 M170 front line ambulances in which the basic body and chassis of the M38A1 were extended to accommodate litter patients.
In 1953 the facilities, plants and other physical assets of Willys-Overland were purchased by the Henry J. Kaiser interests and named Willys Motors, Inc. Under Kaiser management the company continued its interests in government military and non-military business, including the development of the M274 weapons carrier.
In 1960 the company began its first civilian government program by successfully winning a bid to develop and produce a 1/4-ton delivery van for the U. S. Post Office. Over 14,000 of these 1/4-ton vehicles were eventually produced at the Toledo plant.
Two years later in 1962 the company underbid the
Ford Motor Company, the original designer of the M151 1/4-ton truck, which had replaced the M38A1, for a contract to produce over 9,000 of these 1/4-ton utility vehicles. Later that same year a second contract was won for an additional 9,800 units. Over 20,000 M151s were built in Toledo, and later, over 100,000 were manufactured in South Bend.
It was not until 1963 that Willys Motors was renamed the Kaiser Jeep Corporation.
The year 1964 marked a significant milestone in the company’s history. Early in that year,the Kaiser Jeep Corporation purchased the Studebaker Corporation manufacturing facilities on Chippewa Avenue in South Bend, Indiana. With the purchase of this facility, Kaiser Jeep also assumed a contract for the production of the M39 5-ton military truck series. In May of 1964 Kaiser won its own contract to produce M44 2 1/2-ton trucks at the new South Bend location. Over the next 25 years, the Chippewa facility was to produce nearly 112,000 5-ton and 150,000 2 1/2-ton trucks for the armed forces of the free world.
In 1965 the company designed and developed the M715 1 1/4-ton series truck which was purchased by the U. S. Army to replace the M37 series. Delivery of over 33,000 vehicles began in 1967 and included the M715 cargo truck, M726 ambulance and the M726 maintenance truck.
In 1967 Kaiser Jeep Corporation formed a special division devoted exclusively to the research, development and production of Government vehicles. The Defense and Government Products Division was a direct organizational forerunner of AM General.
In 1967 the company was awarded a contract by the U. S. Post Office for the production of the 1/4-ton DJ-5 Dispatcher. This rugged and durable delivery vehicle had many commercial applications. It was used by the U. S. Postal Service, police departments, utility companies and small package delivery firms. Over 150,000 Dispatchers were produced. In addition to the DJ-5, the company developed the FJ-8 3/4-ton series and FJ-9 1-ton series Postal Service vans. In all, 35,000 3/4-ton and 4,000 1-ton vans were delivered to the U. S. Postal Service and other commercial users.
In 1970 American Motors Corporation purchased the Kaiser Jeep Corporation from Kaiser Industries. The Defense and Government Products Division became the General Products Division of the Jeep Corporation. Shortly after the purchase, the Division’s Toledo executive offices and Dearborn engineering operations were relocated to Wayne, Michigan.
On April 1, 1971, the Division was incorporated as AM General Corporation, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the American Motors Corporation. This move was initiated to give independent status to AM General in recognition of the advantages of flexibility and autonomy in fulfilling the special transportation requirements of the U. S. Government and in pursuing further diversification.
Later in 1971 AM General’s engineering and manufacturing capabilities were augmented with the establishment of the Engineering and Technical Services Division. This division provided vehicle engineering and related technical services for conducting research and development programs for both commercial and military applications. In the early 1970’s the U. S. Army contracted AM General to perform engineering development work on it’s 2 1/2 and 5-ton truck series. As part of an ongoing developmental effort, AM General designed the M809 series 5-ton truck. AM General produced over 92,000 5-ton trucks at its South Bend facility for distribution to the U. S. Armed Services and friendly overseas nations.
In addition to the development of the M809 truck series, AM General developed a second 5-ton truck series, the M939. AM General won a contract for the production of over 21,000 vehicles which began delivery in 1982.
During the 1970’s, AM General entered the transit bus field, producing a new generation bus known as the Metropolitan Series. Through 1978, when that line of business was terminated, over 5,000 transit buses had been produced at the Mishawaka facility.
In 1976 AM General was awarded a contract by the U. S. Army to produce a series of vehicles ranging in size from 14 to 20 tons. Using commercial components, AM General developed the M915 truck series which utilized a multi-purpose chasis and accommodated a variety of special purpose vehicles including Line Haul Tractors, a Bituminous Spreader, Dump Trucks and Concrete Transporters. Delivery of 7,300 vehicles was completed in 1984.
Responding to the need for the military for increased mobility, AM General developed and patented the Central Tire Inflation System (CTI) to be used on the M809 and M939 5-ton trucks. The CTI features driver activated dashboard controls that alter tire pressure to suit terrain conditions while the vehicle is in motion. The CTI improved vehicle towing capability even under the most severe weather conditions and contributed to longer vehicle life and lower life cycle costs.
In February 1979, the AM General corporate offices were moved from Wayne to the American Motors AMTEK Building in Detroit.
In 1979 AM General began preliminary design work on the M998 Series High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle (
HMMWV), a 1 1/4-ton truck intended to replace the M151 and other light tactical vehicles. The U. S. Army awarded AM General a prototype contract in 1981 and the development and operational testing was conducted over a five-month period in 1982. In March 1983, AM General won an initial $1.2 billion contract to produce 55,000 HMMWVs to be delivered in five basic models and 15 different configurations over a five-year period. The Army subsequently exercised contract options for over 15,000 additional vehicles, raising the total contract order to 70,000 HMMWVs valued at $1.6 billion. Deliveries began in 1985, and production under that contract was completed in December 1989.
The High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV, pronounced Humvee®) offers exceptional speed, mobility and agility and is built upon a multi-purpose platform which will accommodate a broad range of configurations. HMMWVs feature full-time four-wheel drive, independent suspension, steep approach and departure angles, 60 percent gradeability and 16 inches of ground clearance. HMMWVs are currently in use by the U. S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force at more than 350 locations throughout the United States and overseas.
In 1983, the LTV Corporation bought AM General from American Motors Corporation and established it as a wholly owned subsidiary of the LTV Aerospace and Defense Company. In 1984, the AM General Headquarters moved from the American Motors AMTEK Building to Livonia, Michigan, and two years later to South Bend, Indiana, where the primary manufacturing operations were located.
In 1989, AM General completed its remaining medium truck business and closed the Chippewa Avenue facilities in South Bend which had been acquired from Studebaker in 1964. In early 1990, the AM General headquarters relocated from Chippewa Avenue to offices in downtown South Bend.
In August, 1989, the U. S. Army awarded AM General a new multiyear contract for continued production of more then 33,000 HMMWVs. First deliveries under this new contract began in January 1990. Total value of this second multiyear contract was approximately $1 billion.
The U.S. Army awarded AM General an additional contract in 1994 for 1,200 HMMWVs and 8,800 in 1995, to be produced through the year 2000, bringing the total to over 150,000 vehicles built and delivered to the U.S. Armed Forces and more than 30 friendly overseas nations.
The workhorse HMMWV was very prominent in the U. S. military action in Panama in 1989-90, and even more so in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, where some 20,000 HMMWVs won high praise from the troops who used them.
In April, 1992, the Renco Group, Inc. of New York City purchased AM General Corporation from LTV.
In 1992, AM General began production of versions of the HMMWV, called the HUMMER® for civilian use. An international network of dealers provides sales and service for civilian owners. Known as "the world’s most serious 4x4," the revolutionary vehicle has found favor with commercial users who appreciate the value of HUMMER’s long life and amazing performance, and individuals who seek the ultimate in toughness and mobility.
In 1994, AM General began work under a new multi-year contract, to rebuild and modernize vehicles from the U. S. Army’s huge fleet of 2 1/2-ton cargo trucks. That highly successful program was completed in April 1999, after providing the Army 5,484 very cost-effective "new" M35A3 2 1/2-ton trucks.

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