When you think of predecessors to the early Jeep, chances are you think about vehicles produced by Willys. But if you trace the history of four-wheel-drive vehicles back even further, you’ll find another company that led the way on the 4×4 military vehicle front before Willys produced their first four-wheel-drive. That company was Marmon-Herrington. Check them out in this week’s Vintage Monday below!
The first Marmon-named company started out as the Nordyke and Marmon Machine Company in 1851, which specialized in making flour milling machinery. By the early 1900s, the company entered the automotive market as The Marmon Car Company, which produced some of the most prestigious cars in the world for about 30 years. One such vehicle was the Marmon Wasp, which took home the win at the very first Indianapolis 500 race in 1911.
By the time the early 1930s rolled around, the economy had taken a downturn in the United States and with the onset of the Great Depression, the market for prestigious luxury cars virtually disappeared. To keep the business going, The Marmon Car Company joined forces with an ex-military engineer by the name of Arthur Herrington in 1931 with a new idea up its sleeve. This is how the company became Marmon-Herrington.
With luxury cars out of the question, the new Marmon-Herrington company started designing four-wheel-drive vehicles, procuring contracts for 4×4 chassis’ to tow light military weaponry and full-blown military aircraft fueling trucks. They also secured a contract with Iraqi Pipeline Company, which was meant to equip the biggest trucks built at the time with four-wheel-drive capabilities.
In addition to military and commercial trucks, Marmon-Herrington recognized a need for reasonably-priced four-wheel-drive vehicles in the market. This idea brought forth Marmon-Herrington’s partnership with Ford.
Through its partnership, Marmon-Herrington converted a number of Ford trucks into four-wheel-drive vehicles. Not only did this make commercial use of four-wheel-drive vehicles more realistic, it also put 4×4 capabilities in the hands of civilians. This has remained the basis of the company ever since.
Though the company began focusing solely on equipping vehicles with four-wheel-drive capabilities in the 1960s and 70s, the decades before brought the company recognition for its design of military tanks, airport fire trucks and even trolley buses following WWII. The company built trolleys from 1946 until 1959.
In the early 1960s, the company was bought by the Pritzker family and guided back toward the four-wheel-drive truck market. Marmon-Herrington has been focused on making four-wheel-drive conversions and components for a range of applications since, from military vehicles to construction vehicles and even forestry and mining vehicles.
The company is now one of the leading providers of transfer cases and durable axles for trucks and specialty vehicles, as well as installation kits and OEM solutions.
So the next time you see a Jeep and instantly think Willys, take a second look and recognize that even before the Willys MB, there were 4×4 Marmon-Herrington vehicles out there pulling their weight and setting themselves up as the grandfather of the Jeep.