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Reconnaissance Car

Stylized Bantam Reconnaissance Car Mural

Butler is rightfully known world-wide as the birthplace of the Jeep. In the decades following World War I, the U.S. Army was seeking designs for a new type of military vehicle. They needed something small, light, incredibly tough, all-purpose, and all-terrain; but nobody had a clear picture of what such a vehicle might look like!

Throughout the 1920s and ‘30s, Army Quartermaster committees met with branches of the armed services, private companies, and individual investors to discuss potential designs for the new military vehicle. 

In mid-1940, the U.S. Army invited 135 manufacturers to design a four-wheel-drive, 40 horsepower, 1,300-pound reconnaissance car capable of hauling soldiers, supplies, and heavy artillery across rough terrain…and deliver a fully operational prototype in just 49 days.

Only two companies submitted proposals: Willys-Overland Motors of Toledo, Ohio and The American Bantam Car Company of Butler, Pennsylvania. When the Bantam team promised to deliver their prototype in 45 days, they got the contract.

Freelance auto designer Karl Probst, Bantam factory manager Frank Fenn, former General Motors executive Arthur Brandt, and a crew of specialists worked around the clock to design and produce a working “Bantam Reconnaissance Car” (BRC) in just seven weeks. On September 23, 1940, Ralph Turner of Butler drove the untested vehicle to Camp Holabird, Maryland, beating the deadline by just 30 minutes. The Army tested it under every imaginable circumstance for 30 days and the little BRC met every challenge. The team in Butler had done it!

Unfortunately, the Bantam factory in Butler did not have the production capacity to meet the Army’s requirement of 75 vehicles per day. With the U.S. on the brink of WWII, Army officials had to consider a company’s capacity for mass production. Consequently, they gave Bantam’s BRC blueprints to the Ford and Willys companies. Their huge factories were able to produce the 650,000 “Jeeps” the U.S. Army needed to move troops and equipment across the European, Pacific, and African fronts during World War II.

After their initial run of 2,675 BRCs, the Bantam factory never produced another vehicle. The factory turned instead to manufacturing military trailers, torpedo motors, and other items until ARMCO purchased the company in 1956. ARMCO tore down the Bantam factory, but as of early 2024 the boarded-up brick administration building still stands.


Mural Details


Michael Clark


Circle of Swords Gaming Guild


123 W New Castle St, Butler, PA

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