1950s Jeepney

History of the Jeepney the Truth and the British Connection

We have all heard how the Jeepney came about after after WWII after the Americans left them behind, while that story is partly true it is not the true History of the Jeepney.

The fact is Jeepneys used to be called auto-calesa and they were first used in the Philippines in 1910, they were hired out to people for 2 peso an hour.

The Original Jeepneys

The original Jeepneys that were called auto-calesa’s so the History of the Jeepney has as much to do with Germany and Britain as it has America.

By 1932 there was a growing number of taxis in Manila but they were expensive, so an enterprising Filipino decided to base a mode of transport that was used in rural Germany which was the DKW transporter. He built low-priced public transport by joining its chassis with a DKW and Filipino carriages. The design he came up with was sold by the DKW-AC Company.

In the mid 1930s another company copied the idea and improved it making it easier for passengers to enter and exit and also made it safer. Bacharach Motor Company (BMC) fitted a tartanilla carriage onto the 1934 American Austin. Bacharach Motor Company named it the BMC-AC.

Original Jeepneys in the 1930s
Original Jeepneys in 1930s were called Auto-calesa or Jitneys

The British Connection to the History of the Jeepney

Some of you might have already picked up on the British link already, the link being the 1934 American Austin was made by the American Austin Car Company under license from the British Austin Motor Company, it was the American version of the famous British Austin 7.

Update: Since writing the History of the Jeepney I have found evidence that Bacharach Motor Company (BMC) was using chassis from the Austin 7.  

So the Jeepney was being used in all but name before the Willy Jeep was even invented.

In 1935 the American Austin Car Company was bought out and was renamed American Bantam, in 1940 American Bantam designed a Jeep for the US War department, this was the first Jeep. The War department felt that American Bantam would be unable to meet the demand so passed the blueprints of the American Bantam Jeep to Ford and Willys. American Bantam Jeep still went into production but the Jeeps were mainly for the British Army.

Before World War Two broke out there were many other cars and trucks could be seen plying the streets of Manila that had been converted to carry more passengers than they were designed to carry.

Bacharach Motor Company Advert
Bacharach Motor Company (BMC) 1930s Advertising the Jitney with American and English Austin 7 chassis English courtesy Andrew Ma.Guerrero

America destroyed most vehicles in Manila

When America shelled and bombed Manila to the ground destroying most of the building and killing thousands of Filipinos, they also destroyed most of the Public Utility Vehicles (PUV).

By the end of the war few vehicles survived the shelling of Manila, plus the fact people needed to travel more as so much of Manila had been destroyed. That meant any functioning vehicle was in demand to be used as a PUV, Filipinos were turning every vehicle they could get their hands on into PUV’s.

Filipino ingenuity

Just after the end of the war was the first time Jeeps were used as Public Utility Vehicles in Manila. If you believe the History of the Jeepney we are told the first ones were surplus military jeeps sold to Filipinos, that version of history does not take into account the ingenuity of the people of the Philippines.

Knowing Filipinos I suspect the first jeeps converted to Public Utility Vehicles were not sold to them at all and were probably made up from parts of jeeps that had been damaged and abandoned during the battle. I have no proof of this and would love to hear from anyone that does, but it is more logical and if you know anything about the ingenuity of Filipinos you will realise it is the most likely.

It was not until 1946 that the US military started to sell surplus jeeps in large numbers, it was then that Public Utility Vehicles started to see a uniformity in their design.

Not the same as Jeepneys today.

There is no doubt that 1946 was the start of the style that became the iconic Jeepney and that is true, but the Jeepneys of today bear only a slight resemblance to the Jeepneys that become an iconic part of the Philippines.

There are claims the 1946 Jeepneys sat 10 people each side, but if you look at photos of 1950s Jeepneys it seems unlikely and it is more likely it was 10 people in total, 5 people each side.

So they were much smaller than today’s Jeepneys, and really if you compare the 2 vehicles they don’t look that much alike apart from the shape of the front.

As you can see from the photos the Jeepneys of the 1940s and 50s were indeed beautiful vehicles and something for Filipinos to be proud about. Hand on heart can you say the same about the Jeepneys today? 

History of the Jeepney 1950s Jeepney
1950s Jeepney courtesy of Juvy Pastores
Replica of a 1953 Sarao Jeepney
Replica of a 1953 Sarao Jeepney With 3 seats each side, like the original.

How they got called Jeepney

There are claims that the word Jeepney came about because of the word Jeep and that your knees touch the persons sitting opposite you, this was probably just a joke someone made up, if it was true surely it would be spelt Jeepnee or Jeep-knee.

The most likely is it comes from the word Jitney which is an American word for a vehicle for hire A Jitney is a small-capacity vehicle that follow a rough service route, much the same as a Jeepney, so there is a good chance the Americans in the Philippines at the time started to call them Jitneys and then it got changed to Jeepney. It is most likely Americans were calling the many other Public Utility Vehicles being used in Manila Jitneys before the war. 

Update: Since first writing the History of the Jeepney I have found evidence that they were called Jitneys before WWII. 

The Future of the Jeepneys

Plans are underway to replace the Jeepney with modern vehicles, and many feel sad that the iconic Jeepney will no longer be seen on the streets of the Philippines.

I say lets keep the style of the iconic Jeepney and I mean the real iconic Jeepney of the 1950s not the monstrosity and safety hazard Jeepneys become today.

I am sure it would not be difficult to build lightweight versions of the 1950s Jeepneys, because they were not that big they could be electric and used for transport on the smaller roads, maybe replacing some of the tricycles. They could also be used in tourist areas.


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