The Jerry Can – a brief history.
Seen all over the world, on news reels from the 1940s to 2014, the Jerry can is as familiar to most people as the Land Rovers which often carry them.
The distinctive shape and size, the handles, the side patterns; it may surprise you to learn that these have changed relatively little in the almost-80 years since the design was first put into production.
The name Jerry can is derived from the British Army slang for their World War II adversaries; Jerry the German.Originally known as the Wehrmacht-Enheitskanister, the fuel container was designed in 1937 by chief engineer Vinzenz Grünvogel of the Müller engineering firm.
As Germany geared-up for war, so did the military machine’s logistical departments. The concept of Blitzkrieg, or Lightning War, relied upon the swift movement of units ahead of any static line of battle or reinforced position. Swift being the keyword, the tactic needed vehicles to be able to move at will, and stopping at petrol stations isn’t really on the to-do list of your average Tank Campaign.
With flat sides and squared corners allowing both easy stacking and flexible vehicle mounting, the use of innovative ergonomic design made both the handles and the spout all-time classics.
Three handles along the top allowed for the carrying of cans to be shared, with two empty cans easier to carry in one hand than any other design.
When you contrast this with the British 4 gallon (18 litre) ‘Flimsy’, which had a distressing tendency to leak, it becomes obvious that you’d much rather be moving jerry cans than flimsies. Read more about the disparity in build quality here at thinkdefence.co.uk
The welded rather than pressed construction cured leaks, with the still-recognisable pressed pattern allowed for both a stronger construction and room for the fuel to expand and contract with the weather changes. Although not light at 4kg empty, with General Auchinleck estimating Allied fuel leakages at 30%, the better build quality was worth it.
The most appreciated feature, from a user’s perspective, is probably the cam-locking release for the cap. Not only does it make it easy to open and close whilst wearing gloves in cold weather, its operation is simple and vitally tool-free. The same could not be said of the British and American equivalents.
Even when copied, screw caps requiring wrenches were incorporated. It took the capture of significant fuel depots in the African Desert campaign to provide a sufficient supply and make the original design’s genius apparent.
Anything Rommel could do, we could do with Panache. The picture below shows the LRDG (Long Range Desert Group) with SAS founding-officer David Stirling. And some Jerry cans.
At their height the Allies, here pictured at a Normandy depot, were moving over a million gallons of fuel per day in these metal marvels.
It wasn’t just fuel that they carried though, as the robust cans were also handy for shifting H20. Especially in the desert, where a secure supply of water is essential, the jerry can became as associated with water as it was with fuel.
Indeed, there are even charities who use the Jerry can image to underline the existing problems in deprived areas, where safe drinking water can be half a day’s walk away.
As time marches on , though, innovation rounds the corners and softens the edges, and modern technology supports established ideas. Cheaper containers have come to dominate the market, but plastic has not covered over the original design’s essential genius. From the size to the basic design layout to the re-inforcing braces on the side, the original design’s DNA is clear.
Novel designs such as the ROTO PAX container point the way to the future of the Jerry Can:
Whether you’re crossing a desert or laying the hedges for winter, McDonald 4×4 have the fuel can for you.
See our webstore at www.mcdonald4x4.co.uk
This article was written by Rupert Astbury.