The Jeep Wave: an Origin Story

Originally published on May 5, 2023 | Updated on Jul 18, 2023

If you’ve ever been the proud owner of a Jeep, particularly the Wrangler or CJ, you’re likely familiar with the “Jeep Wave.” This symbol of comradery ranges from a simple elevation of a finger or two above the dashboard to a full-fledged, five-finger wave outside the driver’s window. 

You don’t need a Wrangler to do the Jeep Wave either. Virtually any Jeep, from the Gladiator to the Renegade, can participate in the Jeep Wave. 

Though nearly every Jeeper throws a hand up to Jeep-piloting passersby, have you ever stopped and wondered why? Is this simply a symbol of acceptance–a motion to subtly communicate a sense of brotherhood brought about by shared ownership? Or is there more to the story? 

In this article, we’re researching the origins of the iconic Jeep Wave, answering, once and for all, why we do it and why it’s so tough to resist.

What Is the Jeep Wave?

The Jeep Wave is a self-explanatory concept. When you pass by another Jeep enthusiast while piloting your own CJ or Wrangler, one initiates a wave while the other reciprocates. 

Whether the other driver catches you gawking or you pull up beside one another at a light, resisting the friendly hand gesture is nearly impossible. 

In many ways, the Jeep Wave is a symbol of brotherhood as much as it is of exclusivity. Owning a Jeep is more than a material purchase; it’s an entire lifestyle that would require more text than this article to explain. 

So the question becomes: where does the Jeep Wave originate from?

Where Does the Jeep Wave Originate?

While the origins of the Jeep Wave aren’t precisely known, it’s believed that the iconic gesture stems from WWII, in which the Willys MB (the first vehicle widely regarded as a Jeep) scoured the war-torn landscape to transport personnel during reconnaissance missions.

During these trying times, MB drivers would often throw up a quick gesture, ranging from a double-finger raise while the remaining digits grip the wheel to a rapid hand raise beside the tube-frame windshield. This wave was a morale boost and a means of demonstrating allyship to your fellow brothers in arms.

Once the war ended, several Willys MBs were shipped back stateside and sold at low rates at surplus stores. Several veterans, however, were offered the war-torn vehicles for pennies on the dollar, resulting in a mass number of ex-military personnel cruising through small-town America in their retired/surplus Willys. 

Considering the now illustrious reputation of the MB, anyone driving a Willys was greeted by a wave as a nod to their service, only humbled by the understanding waves of other Willy's drivers, often fellow veterans. 

As the first civilian Jeeps began to roll off the lots in 1945–like the Jeep CJ-2A–the wave continued, though it now extended beyond the brand’s initial military lineage to an appreciation for the timelessly cool four-wheeler. And thus, the Jeep Wave was born!

How Has the Jeep Wave Evolved?

As the Jeep name became less associated with the military and more so with off-roading, Jeep ownership began to mean something else entirely. Those who own Jeeps aren’t the average Joe commuting to work; they’re free spirits always on the hunt for the next adventure off the beaten path. 

Over eight decades since the first Jeep MB rolled onto foreign soil, the Jeep Wave persists. However, not to honor one’s service but to express a different kind of brotherhood: kindred spirits. Jeep owners share a love for the outdoors and the smell of the open air; there’s nothing more enamoring than a Summer's evening cruise and pitching a campsite with your Jeep Gladiator tent.

Nowadays, the Jeep Wave symbolizes comradery; no matter your income, status, or career, two Jeepers share, at the very least, a passion for that distinct 7-bar grille and a mutual understanding that, while you could be driving anything else, you chose a Jeep.

How Do You Do the Jeep Wave?

The truth is, there’s no right or wrong way to do the Jeep long as you do it. Whether you initiate or reciprocate, and no matter the finger count you flash or the ferocity with which you shake your wrist, a wave is a wave. 

Most people flash two fingers above the steering wheel, while many others give you a more traditional wave. 

Just don’t be the inauthentic enthusiast, rolling their eyes or ignoring a fellow Jeeper because you have more Jeep mods on your rig. Whether you know it or not, you signed up for the wave as soon as you cruised home in your Jeep. Remember, it’s not just a car; it’s a lifestyle!

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