I wanted to recreate the iconic “Jerry Can” symbol of the indestructible fuel container used in some of the harshest condition of war into the most delicate and fragile of materials such as porcelain and clay. In order to do so, I made a mould of the can which is composed by 6 different parts corresponding to each side of the can. It was a lengthy process as we had to wait two weeks for each side to dry out completely.
Once the mould was ready I slip-casted the can several times, and made the spouting lid and handle by hand. Although I lost a few in the process I made a series of 4.
Now i’m in the final stage of decorating them with black preyer-rugs like drawings on clear glaze. Will post the finished art works as soon as I fire them.
The ‘Jerry’ can’s roots reach all the way back to the 1930s. During this time period Germany was rearming with an eye towards global war. One seemingly mundane item needed was a modern container for safely transporting liquids under very harsh conditions. While the German military had triangular metal 20 liter containers in service, they had a variety of drawbacks. Shortcomings included the shape of the containers which made stacking difficult, the handle design, lid and durability as well as how the cans were constructed. With Germany planning for a modern mechanized war on a monumental scale, logistics would be the key to success. Huge quantities of liquids (fuels, oils, solvents and water) would be required by the troops in the field.
Recognizing this need, in 1936 the Germany military responded by issuing strict requirements for a new fuel container. These included:
- The shape and size of the new can needed to ease both transporting and storage by allowing containers to be stacked side by side.
- A desired capacity of 20 liters with a filled weight of approximately 44 pounds. This would allow one man to carry a full container in each hand.
- Multiple handle design to allow two empty cans to be carried in each hand, one full can to be carried in each hand and to enable containers to be moved bucket-brigade style.
- A design with an eye towards rapid and economical mass production on a huge scale.
An engineer named Vinzenz Grunvogel working at Muller of Schwelm responded by developing a novel 20-liter (5.3 gallon) metal container in 1936. Extensive testing showed his design to be superior to the containers then in service as well as competing designs. His design would go on to be adopted across the board by the German military and would become known as the Wehrmacht-Einheitskanister.
Unlike the previous designs which were triangular in shape, Grunvogel’s design was rectangular. The sides of the can were marked with distinctive looking cross-like indentations. Rather than being for looks these strengthened the can. More importantly though they also allowed the contents to expand and contract during changes in environmental conditions. An air pocket under the handles also allows expansion of the contents when the can is filled correctly.
Another noteworthy feature is the three handle design. This was distinctly different than the previous triangular design with its single handle. The central handle allowed traditional carrying of one can in each hand. The outer handles allowed the weight of one can to be shared by two people, easing carrying over long distances. They also allowed two empty cans to be carried in each hand. Plus a large quantity of cans could be rapidly moved bucket brigade style.
To facilitate large scale mass production the design was constructed from two halves stamped from sheet steel. These were then welded together. The weld joining the two halves was placed in a central ‘gutter’. This protected it from impacts and abuse, increasing durability. In place of a conventional thread on cap Grunvogel designed an entirely new closure system. This eliminated the leaks associated with thread on caps subjected to hard military use. Grunvogel’s system consisted of a rugged cam lever locking mechanism. This secured a snap-closure lid located on top of the filler neck. His novel design proved both practical and reliable.
Another important feature of his design was an air pipe. This was incorporated neatly into the filler neck. Its purpose? It decreased the time required to pour the contents of the can while also smoothing the flow of the liquid eliminating splashing. It accomplished this by acting as a breather tube. Grunvogel neatly accomplished this without having to resort to an additional external vent which could leak.
Following its adoption Grunvogel’s Einheitskanister saw widespread use with the German military during World War II. Despite being exposed to incredibly harsh wartime conditions it performed exceptionally well on all fronts. It saw service in environments ranging from the extreme heat of the desert to the brutal cold of Russia. The Einheitskanister played a key role in keeping the German war machine fueled and rolling forward during the early years of Blitzkrieg. Grunvogel’s design allowed the rapid refueling of armored vehicles, transport vehicles, motorcycles and other military vehicles and equipment.
It wasn’t long before other countries recognized the value of Grunvogel’s design. The British first encountered them in 1940 during the fight for Norway. It was immediately clear the German design was superior to their own 4 gallon cans which they referred to as ‘flimsies’. British soldiers would use any they managed to capture from the ‘Jerries’ (Germans) in preference to their issued cans. Hence they became known as ‘Jerry Cans’ in English. The design proved so superior to their issue can the British MOD eventually copied it and placed it into production. The Soviets were equally impressed and copied it as well. Many other countries would follow their lead and in the years after the end of the war it would be adopted by NATO. Today it is not only NATO issue but a world standard as well. Popular around the world they are prized by off-roaders, military vehicle collectors, farmers, preppers and anyone else who requires a bomb-proof liquid container they know they can count on.