At the dawn of the 20th century, Willys ran a very successful car dealership that sold Overland automobiles. When the factory encountered supply problems in 1907, he purchased the company, which became known as Willys-Overland five years later.
Business was good to the point of becoming the second largest automaker in the U.S. (Ford was No. 1). During World War I, Willys-Overland built trucks, planes, and engines.
The company's best-selling vehicle, the Willys-Overland Whippet, found more than 100,000 takers between 1927 and 1931.
After the Willys enterprises went bankrupt during the Great Depression and John Willys died in 1935, Willys-Overland started production of the Willys MB military vehicle, better known as Jeep, in 1941.