The military got them first. Previous to WWII, the US military was relying on Dodge to supply them large trucks. The army was using half-ton, three-quarter ton, and one-ton trucks, with either 4×4 or 6×6 drive trains, and both open and closed cabs. These Dodge trucks were the best made in America and could haul troops, transport equipment, serve as ambulances, or do just about anything else.
The needs of the US military changed dramatically on December 7th, 1941 when the Japanese attacked the naval base at Pearl Harbor. The very next day, Roosevelt declared war, and congress immediately allotted $50 billion to defense. While the army scrambled for a general purpose vehicle that would become the Jeep, Dodge had an established relationship with the military supplying trucks. One of them was a heavy duty pickup truck that was dubbed the “Battle Wagon.” According to the folks at Fletcher Chrysler of Franklin, IN, a Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer, by the time the war ended in 1945, Dodge had built an incredible 226,776 of them.
When the troops returned home to their farms and businesses, they needed new work trucks that were rugged and reliable. Many were vocal about the fact that they wanted to purchase a vehicle like the old Battle Wagons that they had used during the war. Unfortunately, Dodge didn’t offer anything like it to civilians. After several months of being swamped with requests, however, Dodge started a crash program to bring the Battle Wagon into the civilian world. By March 1946, the first trucks arrived at dealer showrooms, and they were dubbed “Power Wagons.”
The Power Wagon may have been a close relative of the army truck, but it contained a myriad of earlier Dodge truck features. The step-side bed and cab came from the 1939 commercial-grade Dodge pickup, the flat fenders were repurposed from even earlier models. The inside the power wagon was spartan with little more than a rubber floor mat and vinyl bench seat. Outside the front end and hood looked most like the military models and there was an eight-foot bed, the largest in the industry. Power came from a bullet-proof 94 horsepower 230 cubic inch straight-six mated to a four-speed manual transmission. It was geared to easily haul a 3,000 pound payload. Most importantly, however, it was the first factory-built civilian pickup to offer four-wheel drive.
When the Power Wagons hit Dodge dealers, they were a huge hit. Sales were so good that few changes were made until 1947 when a few creature comforts were added. Standard features in the 1947 Power Wagons included a heater, dome light, sun visor, arm rest, and 10,000 pound winch. In 1951, a number of mechanical upgrades were made to make the Power Wagon even stronger but sales began to taper off. The main reason is that Ford and Chevy were selling pickups that were far more civilized and they were selling them as fast as they could build them.
In 1956, Dodge introduced the W100 and W200 Power Wagons. These more modern, four-wheel drive, V8-powered versions kicked off a trend of modern pickups wearing the Power Wagon badge.
Dodge stopped using the Power Wagon name for its heavy duty trucks in 1981, but revived it in 2005 for an off-road focused Ram 2500 pickup. The name carries on today as a trim package. But it doesn’t matter, the Power Wagon has earned its name and its stripes, or whatever Ram wants to put on it nowadays