The Jerry Can

The jerry can is a genuine design classic; classic in that in form and function it is beyond improvement. It is difficult to see how it could be made better.

As its name suggests, it was a German invention. The British first came across it during the Norwegian campaign at the very beginning of the war. They themselves carried all their fuel in cylindrical drums – difficult to carry and pour requiring a vent hole in order for the fuel to flow smoothly. The round shape made for inefficient stacking and storage.

They captured the German equivalent and simply adopted the design as they found it, realising that there was little to improve. It carries twenty litres – a man can easily carry two of these on his own holding the middle of three handles and two men can carry three between them holding the middle can by the outside handle. Its oblong shape stacks efficiently with minimum spaces between cans. The cap is attached to the can and seals without having to be screwed down. It pours smoothly with no need for a separate vent: I’m not quite sure how this works but it is smooth enough that a separate funnel is not strictly necessary. The size and shape meant that dozens of cans could be lashed around a vehicle to double its range.

There are plastic fuel cans of similar size today which are slightly lighter and which must be cheaper to produce but the chances are that, if you ask for a large fuel, can you will get exactly the same design that the British recognised as the ne plus ultra in 1940. That is a classic.

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