International Harvester's Willys Connection

At one time in their histories, the paths of the two firms, Willys and International Harvester, crossed, with major benefits for them both.


| February 2015



International C-1 pickup truck

The good-looking International C-1 pickup replaced the D-1 in mid-1934. This well-restored example was displayed at the 2011 Antique Truck Historical Show in South Bend, Ind.

Photo by Sam Moore

The International Harvester Co. is well-known for its farm machinery. Nearly every farm during a large part of the 20th century had at least one McCormick-Deering implement and many had a Farmall tractor as well. However, International trucks carrying the famed “Triple Diamond” emblem were almost as common.

When I drove an International KB-7 dump truck back in the early 1950s, we called all International trucks “binders” or “corn binders,” a nickname that reflected the company’s agricultural connection.

Many people have heard of the Willys Co. as well, but not many know much about it, other than the fact that it made the famous Willys Jeep of World War II. At one time in their histories, the paths of the two firms, Willys and International Harvester, crossed, with major benefits for them both. It’s a little-known story except among International truck aficionados.

IH made no light pickup trucks during the 1920s. Its smallest, the famous 6-speed special, was a 1-ton truck and other models were heavier still. When the all-new A series was introduced in 1930, it included the 3/4-ton AW-1, which sold for $650 in 1931 ($9,940 today), but nothing smaller.

Setting sights on a light-duty truck

During the early 1930s and the dark days of the Great Depression, automobile manufacturers, hoping to attract customers, began to worry more about styling, with sweeping, sculptured body lines, lower, more streamlined profiles and colorful, two-tone paint schemes. Truck builders, including International, followed suit. Trucks began to have more rounded corners, chrome radiator shells and colorful paint jobs. On IH trucks, that meant red frames and wheels, black fenders and green, red or black cabs.

Hoping that a light pickup truck would appeal to the farmers who were buying their farm machinery, and desperate for a new product to help boost sagging sales, IH decided to offer a half-ton pickup. The big problem was that there was no money for developing such a vehicle – and they needed one fast.