The $50 Jeep In A Crate Urban Legend

WWII Army Surplus Jeep in a Crate for $50?
Original Picture of a JEEP SUP - Single Unit Pack - The Jeep in a Crate of World War TwoTRUE: A few jeeps were put in boxes for shipment overseas. It was not the norm. There are No jeeps in a crate for sale, and to the best of everyones research, there never has been any for sale, even after World War Two.
It is FALSE that jeeps were shipped as a box of loose parts packed in cosmoline (cosmolene) grease.  The legend that you can buy a jeep in a crate for $50, but you have to put it together yourself because all of the parts are packed in cosmoline is False, False, False!!!

The Published Story

"Cheap Army Surplus Jeeps! You can buy a brand new jeep in a crate for $50!"  Ads with headlines like this ran for decades in the back of Boy's Life, Popular Mechanics, and several other magazines I used to read as a kid in the 1960's (and those ads probably ran in the 1940's and 1950's as well). The ads promised to tell you how to buy Willys MB and Ford GPW jeeps and other government surplus for extremely low prices. They charged a fee for sending you this information. You mailed in your payment and waited for the postman to deliver the pamphlet that would divulge the secrets of buying tools, equipment, jeeps, trucks, etc. etc. on the cheap for "your fun and profit".

Word of Mouth Story

Guy #1: "Hey, a guy down at the warehouse that my uncle works at knows where we can get Army jeeps in crates for $50. They're brand new. Still packed in cosmoline (cosmolene) and they only need oil, water, brake fluid, and a new battery, and some air in the tires". 
Guy # 2: "Wow, we should get one!"
Guy #1: "Ok, I'll call my uncle and tell him to get us one"

A week later.... 
Guy #1: "I talked to my uncle and he says OK, but the guy he knows says we have to buy 10 at a time to get the price."
Guy #2: "Hmmm, well I'll tell some other friends. Maybe they will go in with us."

A month later.... 
Guy #2: "Well we finally have 10 people going in to buy 10 jeeps.  What did your uncle's co-worker say?"
Guy #1: "Well my uncle's coworker says that it's his sister's, brother-in-law, who has a dentist, who was cleaning the teeth of a retired supply Sgt., who had some buddies who were still in the service, who knew how to get the crated jeeps for $50. But that was in Colorado, and we are here in Oregon, etc. etc.  Oh and the jeeps are actually all in pieces. All brand new, but we have to put them together."

Origins of one of the longest-running myths - it's been around since WWII

This urban legend about 'Cheap Govt. Surplus Jeeps' is believed to have started towards the end of the war in Europe, when a magazine reporter editorialized by saying that 'the jeep has been as strong as a mule, as faithful as a dog and every GI's best friend'. It was his opinion that 'there would be many, many jeeps around after the war ended. The best thing for the government to do was to sell these surplus jeeps to the GI's who loved them. They should be sold for the lowest price possible to the GI's who had earned the right by fighting so bravely, for so long, in all the many theaters of war around the world'.  This planted the seed in peoples' minds that surplus jeeps could and maybe would be sold off cheap after the war.

A little bit of truth got the legend started...

WWII Jeep in a reproduction SUP CrateIt is true that complete factory fresh, running vehicles were crated up and shipped as SUP's, which is short for 'Single Unit Pack', or a pair of jeeps crated together as TUP's, which is short for 'Twin Unit Packs'.  The photograph shown here is of a restored WWII Jeep that has been SUP crated.  You should also see this original World War Two photograph of WW2 jeeps being removed from crates.  The wooden box allowed them to be stacked several jeeps high both above and below deck on ships. The crate also protected the jeep from salt spray and other corrosion and damage. Both Willys and Ford produced TUP WW2 Army jeeps, but only a very, very small percentage of the MB and GPW military jeeps left the factory as SUP's or TUPs.

    The next wrinkle in the 'Jeep in a Crate' myth is the 1950's scam artists.  Here's the scam that was pulled on unsuspecting people. The favorite locations for this scam were port / harbor towns, and at towns with railheads / railroad yards.  The scam artist would have 100 wooden army jeep sized crates built. Next he would buy a surplus army jeep, take it apart, and put it in one of the crates with the requisite cosmoline applied. Next run an ad in the local paper and hand out & post flyers advertising "WWII Army Surplus Jeeps For Sale. Direct from US military surplus. Be there early, as they will go fast at the low, low auction prices. Cash only sales. Sale to be held Sunday morning." The other 99 boxes were not filled with military jeeps, but with bricks, rocks, scrap iron etc. and then all were sealed up.
Come auction day, the scam artist had his accomplice in the crowd. The sales pitch included rules to the effect that, 'Winners are responsible for shipment of the crates and must to bring their own means of transportation to move them. However, because of Longshoreman, and Teamster’s Union rules, no crates could be removed from the docks/yard until Monday. After the sales pitch was given, the accomplice would play his part as a skeptical bidder by shouting out from the crowd "how do we know there really are army jeeps in them crates?" at which point the host (scam artist) would offer to open any box of his choosing for all present to inspect. Well of course he choose the crate containing the real crated military jeep to open and inspect. Now that everyone was satisfied that crated jeeps were really stacked before them, the scam artist would hold the auction and collect the cash, giving the winners their receipts for their 'surplus army jeep in a crate' and instructions to show up on Monday.
Well the scam artists were long gone out of town with cash in hand, when the poor folks showed up Monday morning to haul home their box of rocks  :-(

WWII Ford GPW Jeep in a reproduction SUP CrateThe next occurrence of the jeeps in crates story was popular in the 1960's and 1970's before the US Postal Inspectors cracked down on pyramid type schemes. That story next...
Run an ad in Boy's Life, Popular Science etc., "Send $23 and S.A.S.E. for information on how to buy surplus military jeeps CHEAP!! As low as $49!"

VERSION 1:  You send in your $23 to guy #1  He sends $20 to guy #2. Guy #2 sends $17.50 to guy #3 etc. etc. all in hopes of being placed on the waiting list for the next batch of jeeps.
Thing is, there was no waiting list.

VERSION 2:  You send in your $23 to guy #1. He sends you a xerox he made of the xerox he got (for free) from the US Government. The info on military surplus sold by DRMO (Defense Reutilization) and other GS sales (seized vehicles etc.) is free infomation. Free directly from the United State Government. So now that you have the Xeroxed information sheet and nothing is stopping you from running your own ad in Boy's Life, Popular Science etc., saying "Send $23 and S.A.S.E. for information on how to buy surplus military jeeps CHEAP!! As low as $49!".... It got way out of hand and finally the Postmaster General got involved and put a stop to it.

True Fact: After World War II, the US did sell many, many surplus army jeeps to the public. On many occasions they did give preference to the actual WWII veterans (which was the right thing to do in my opinion). On average the military jeeps were sold for $975 (in 1946 dollars keep in mind), which was a lot of money back then. The condition that the army surplus jeeps were in could run anywhere from battle worn to almost new.  Often times they came with their original tool kits included, and again, many times the buyer would be given as many spare parts as he could carry just to get rid of all the surplus spare parts sitting around after the war.

* A new urban legend was recently emailed to me. This time it involves 1942 Automobiles rather than jeeps. A lot of wishful thinking goes into this one too.

I thought you might be interested in something I once read in an issue of “Collectable Automobile”. I don’t remember which issue, but one cover story was “The Cars of 1942”. In the article, the writer mentioned a story that I wish were true: When the government banned the production of cars in February of that year, they grabbed as many of the new model as they could for future use, not knowing when car production would begin again.

 A great rumor has it that a lot of those cars still exist today, crated, and hidden away in a secret and forgotten government warehouse. They would all be Brand New.
If only!
I’m really sorry I no longer have that issue, but we moved several times since then, and a lot of stuff was inadvertently thrown away, including a couple of magazine collections.
One day, I’ll buy a new issue of the magazine and see if this back-issue is available.
If you know of any crated brand new 1942 cars, please let me know!
Thanks, and have a good day!

Oh boy!  I'll take 20!   ;-)   If only is right!
Thanks for taking the time to share it,

** Just received an email from Scott Nelson about 'legend' I haven't heard of before... Motorcycles in Cans...

Hey, great site!    Interested to see the Jeep in a crate legend - what went around my neighborhood (Northern NJ) in the mid '60s or so was the word that you could get a "new" WWII era U.S. Military motorcycle for $50... but it was un-assembled, each part coated in cosmolene, packed in several 50 gallon drums. Fired our imaginations, but of course nobody knew how to take the next step, and none of us had $50 anyway.

We didn't have a real surplus store in the area, but  I was reminded of  what used to be a retail staple in many towns - the Army-Navy store.   Don't know why they called them that, exactly - they had work clothes and shoes, camping stuff, a Boy Scout section.

Thanks, SN

Hey Scott, thanks for emailing.  I am glad you liked my website.
Re: A Motorcycle in a can... that's a new one on me.   I am going to add your note to the site and see if anyone else has a comment on MC's in cans   ;-)

I got this a few years ago. Not sure exactly where I got it, but I saved it in a folder along with all sorts of other trivia and items of interest.
Another Enduring Urban Legend - The empty M-1 Garand clip 'Ping'

Everyone is familiar with "Urban Legends" which are fantasy stories that have been told and re-told so many times that some people believe them to be true. One such story has plagued the M1 Garand rifle since at least the time of its adoption in 1936. The "legend" involves the distinctive "pinging" noise that the empty M1 clip makes when it is ejected from the rifle. When the M1 was adopted, some of its critics claimed that this was a serious defect in the rifle because an enemy could hear the "ping" and would know that the rifle was empty. This "defect" of the M1 was the cause of many barracks "bull sessions" during World War II and a number of new recruits were undoubtedly frightened. Even today, the story is repeated in some books and articles. The "legend" involves U.S. soldiers who were killed because the enemy was alerted that their M1 rifle was empty due to the noise of the ejected clip. While there are multiple variations to the story, they basically involve an American GI with an empty Garand rifle who was killed when the wily Japanese (or in some stories, German) heard the sound of the ejected clip, charged cross the open ground and bayoneted (or shot) the hapless "dogface" while he fumbled with trying to reload his empty Garand. An interesting twist on this "legend" involves U.S. soldiers turning the tables on their devious enemies by dropping empty M1 clips on the ground to simulate the noise of an ejected clip and then mowing the enemy down when they foolishly revealed their positions to the Americans with supposedly empty rifles. A variation of the story stated that members of the U.S. Army First Special Service Force who were armed with M1941 Johnson Light Machine Guns would fire eight rounds from their weapons, throw empty M1 clips on the ground and then use the remaining 12 rounds in their magazines to kill the Germans who were fooled by this bit of clever deception. Such stories were not limited to World War II and variants of the "legend" are attributed to the Korean War when the Red Chinese troops heard the ejected M1 clips hitting the frozen ground and then killing the Americans with unloaded Garands.

Despite this "legend" being around for over six decades, there is not one documented instance where an American soldier was killed because of a noisy ejected M1 clip. Repeat, there is NO official confirmation of such an incident. If one thinks about it, such a scenario is actually quite absurd. Anyone who has been in combat will verify that a battlefield is a noisy and confusing place. To think that an enemy could hear the sound of an ejected clip several hundred (or even several dozen) yards away over the din of explosions and the racket of many weapons being fired is not logical. Even in the case of a close-range firefight, the scenario does not hold water. Even if an enemy could hear the sound of an ejected clip, he really couldn't do much in the brief period that it takes to reload an M1. A GI with a little practice and a lot of incentive can reload a Garand in just a few seconds. Even Carl Lewis couldn't sprint very far before he would be faced with an angry American with a fresh eight-round clip. Also, even if the GI with the empty Garand couldn't reload fast enough, there would be fellow squad members around with loaded BARs, carbines, M1919A4 machine guns, Thompson submachine guns and other weapons who would be only too happy to send the enemy to their fate in the hereafter.

Some British authors who never used the M1 rifle have published this "defect" of the M1 rifle in numerous books and articles. Even some American writers who should know better have repeated the same bit of fantasy. While the M1 rifle was not perfect, the fact that its ejected clip makes a "pinging" noise when it is ejected is not, by any means, a flaw. If anyone has even a single documented instance of an American being killed due to this reason, I would be quite interested in hearing about it. I recall as a kid in the late '50s and early 60's reading "war stories" in the men's magazines of the day while waiting for a haircut at the barber shop. At the time, I had never handled (let alone fired) a M1 rifle and such tales seemed reasonable. However, to anyone with a knowledge of military small arms and combat situations, it should be readily apparent that such stories clearly fall into the "Urban Legend" category. Hopefully, someday, this piece of fantasy will die a natural death. In the meantime, if you hear a variation of the story being repeated, politely ask what documentation they have to support it. You will likely hear that they "read it somewhere" or their brother-in-law's next door neighbor knew somebody in WWII who was killed because of a noisy M1 clip. That ain't documentation!

Army / Navy Military Surplus Stores - Remembering what they used to be like

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