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Which came first, the motor vehicle or the cartoon character?

If you've watched Popeye cartoons much, you've probably seen Eugene, the Jeep. He is a gift to Olive Oyl, Popeye's girlfriend, sent to her from her uncle Ben in Africa. In an animation entitled, "The Jeep" (1938), Popeye gives Eugene to Swee'Pea and Olive Oyl and says, "The Jeep's a magical dog and can disappear and things".

The best explanation of Eugene's seemingly magical abilities to walk through walls and teleport himself came a couple of years earlier.

In the Aug. 9, 1936 comic strip, "Wha's a Jeep", Popeye asks Professor Brainstine exactly that.

Popeye asks, "Wha's a Jeep?"

The professor replies, "A Jeep is an animal living in a three-dimensional world—in this case our world—but really belonging to a fourth dimensional world. Here's what happened. A number of Jeep life cells were somehow forced through the dimensional barrier into our world. They combined at a favorable time with free life cells of the African Hooey Hound. The electrical vibrations of the Hooey Hound cell and the foreign cell were the same. They were kindred cells. In fact, all things are, to some extent, relative, whether they be of this or some other world, now you see. The extremely favorable conditions of germination in Africa caused a fusion of these life cells. So the uniting of kindred cells caused a transmutation. The result, a mysterious strange animal."

Professor Brainstine, "Any other questions?"

Popeye, "Wha's a Jeep?"

In any case Eugene the Jeep was one of my favorite characters. Since his only word was, "Jeep!", he used a kind of sign language to communicate and he seemed to know about everything. Presumably that was because he really belonged to a fourth dimensional world.

I have my own idea of where the inspiration for the character Eugene the Jeep may have come from. This is just speculation but, as a child of ten, in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, I had a pet coatimundi. A coatimundi is a mammal related to the raccoon. We named him Jeep because the only sound he (or any of his kind) made was, "Jeep". Jeep was about the size of Eugene and, although he was not ever known to walk through walls or teleport, he did have other physical similarities. Maybe, just maybe, the creator of the Popeye stories and characters, Elzie Crisler Segar, had encountered a coati at some point and decided it would make a good character for his Popeye franchise. Or, maybe the whole thing is a coincidence from the fourth dimension.

Here's the answer to the riddle at the start of this write-up. R. Lee Ermey, among others, has suggested that the Willys MB light utility vehicle, which was newly released during WWII, was informally named after Eugene the Jeep because American soldiers were thoroughly impressed with its "small size and ability to move between dimensions and solve seemingly impossible problems". Others maintain the nickname was already in use for larger vehicles of this type. Either way, the cartoon character appears to have come first.

coatimundi in action

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