Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

A state historical marker erected by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) serves to remind the world that Butler, located in western Pennsylvania, about thirty-five miles north of Pittsburgh, is the birthplace of the vehicle now universally known as the jeep, built by the American Bantam Car Company. The factory, formerly the American Austin Car Company, which had produced more than twenty thousand vehicles, was acquired by the American Bantam Car Company in 1936. Within two years, the company was manufacturing Bantam cars and trucks.

On June 27, 1940, the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps released specifica­tions and asked for proposals to develop a new four-wheel drive light military vehicle. The deadline for submitting a proposal was July 22! Bantam scrambled to find someone who could help the company submit a design. Finally, company officials convinced Karl K Probst (about 1882-1963), a Detroit engineer, to undertake the challenge. Bantam’s leaders imposed one condition: they could not pay Probst unless the company won the contract. Despite initial reluctance, Probst went to work on July 17, 1940, and in just two days laid out plans for the Bantam prototype. Bantam submitted its bid, complete with blue­prints, on July 22. The first Bantam prototype – cobbled together from bits and pieces of other vehicles – was completed and driven to Camp Holabird in Dundalk, near Baltimore, Maryland, on Sep­tember 21, meeting the forty-nine-day deadline – with thir­ty minutes to spare!

The Quartermaster Corps subjected the prototype to rigorous off-road trials, concluding, “this vehicle demon­strated ample power and all requirements of the service.” The Ford Motor Company and the Willys Overland Company soon submitted their own prototypes, based on the Bantam designs, which had been shared with them by the Army. Ultimately, the Army ordered fifteen hundred units from each of the three manufacturers. Ford began delivering vehicles in April 1941, followed a few weeks later by Bantam and Willys. However, in light of Bantam’s tenuous manufacturing capabilities and precarious financial condition, and the strength of its competitors, Ford and Willys were eventually granted contracts for mass produc­tion of the jeep. In the end, Bantam manufactured less than twenty-seven hundred Bantam Reconnaissance Cars (BRC-40s), and spent the World War II years building heavy duty trailers for the Army. The company closed in 1956.

The state historical marker, dedicated in 1993, stands at the company’s former factory building on Hansen Avenue in Butler. A 1941 Bantam Reconnaissance Car, bearing serial number 1808, is in the collection of the PHMC’s Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg, Centre County. It is one of only a handful of surviving Bantams. Auto­mobile enthusiast Leeland Bortmas, of Butler, restored and donated the jeep to the museum in 1994. Bortmas served in the 28th Infantry Division for four years. The 28th infantry Division Shrine and the 28th Division World War II Memorial are located on the grounds of the museum.