Toledo and Jeep are synonymous, in many people's minds. For many years, the local Jeep plants have been the city's largest industrial employer. And for decades, Jeep has been Toledo's most famous world export.
Toledo workers have built millions of the scrappy vehicles in the last 58 years, and a number of executives, engineers, and designers deserve credit for turning Jeep into an automotive icon.
But two stand out.
John North Willys contributed the manufacturing and marketing genius that created the huge Willys-Overland Co. complex which eventually became Jeep.
And one of his successors, Ward M. Canaday, saved Willys-Overland from extinction during the Great Depression, fostered the development of the wartime Jeep, and guided the company into civilian Jeep production even as World War II came to an end.
By 1912, the Toledo plant was making more than 28,000 cars a year and putting Toledo on the automotive map. For the next five years, Willys-Overland Co. would be the nation's second largest automaker, behind only Ford Motor Co.
Production of Overland and Willys-Knight models reached 140,000 in 1914, and in 1915 the ever-growing plant employed 15,000.
"John North Willys was certainly one of the highest regarded automotive pioneers," said John Conde, an auto historian in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and former curator of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.
"Almost everything he touched became successful."
Mr. Conde, a former Jeep and American Motors public relations executive, added that Mr. Willys had a knack for choosing styles and features that appealed to consumers. "He was always looking into the future," Mr. Conde remarked. "And, from the beginning, he was one of the first [auto] exporters."
Mr. Willys had a talent for manufacturing efficiency, which rivaled Ford's. He cut prices and sold some models for as little as $500.