A jerry can is a robust
fuel container made from pressed steel. It was originally designed
in Germany in the 1930s for military use and holds 20 litres
of fuel. The development of the jerry cans were a huge improvement
on earlier designs, which required tools and funnels to use.
The jerry can was invented by the Germans during a secret project
ordered by Hitler. The Germans called it the Wehrmachtskanister. The
Germans had thousands of jerry cans stockpiled by 1939 in
anticipation of war.
In 1939, an American engineer
named Paul Pleiss had built a vehicle to journey to India with his
German colleague. After building the car, they realized they didn't
storage for emergency water. The German engineer had access to the
stockpile of jerry cans at Tempelhof Airport and just managed to
take three jerry cans. They drove across 11 national borders without
incident until Field Marshal Goering sent a plane to take the
engineer home. The German engineer compounded his treason by giving
Pleiss complete specifications for the manufacture of the jerry can.
Pleiss continued on to Calcutta, put his car in storage, and flew
back to Philadelphia.
Pleiss told American military
officials about the jerry cans, but they ignored him. Without a
sample, he realized he couldn't get anywhere. He eventually got the
car shipped to New York by a roundabout method, and sent a jerry can
to Washington. The War Department decided instead to use the WWI
ten-gallon jerry can with two screw closures, which required both a
wrench and funnel for pouring.
The one American jerry can was sent to Camp Holabird, Maryland,
where it was redesigned. It only retained the handles, size
and shape. The weld was replaced with rolled seams, the lining was
removed and it now required a wrench and a funnel. The original
design proved far superior and these fuel containers were
subsequently used in all theatres of war around the world.