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Hagerty Employee

The jerrycan design goes back over 80 years, and it’s showing no signs of retirement

Now and again, an invention becomes so ubiquitous that it becomes practically invisible. An industrial designer might consider that the ultimate compliment—a bellwether for a product’s longevity. All this was running through my brain when I recently had to explain to a friend what “that red thing” was, and what purpose it served. Really, when’s the last time you thought especially hard about the humble jerrycan?


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Why must you say "conflict"? It was a world war for God's sake!


We always look for the iconic "Nato" style can with the original cap.  Much more convenient to use than the threaded style 3" opening.  Not sure when that change was made in the design or why

Intermediate Driver

Remember them very well; strapped to the back of the M151A1/2, and also with the deuce and a half, I drove as an MP (white hat and field).  Even practiced refueling our APC’s with them.  The only problem was fuel theft (no way to lock the lids).  Great for impromptu “curling” exercise.

New Driver

I have owned and collected numerous Mercedes automobiles over the years and at one time I had possession of a jerrycan that, I believe, was made by Mercedes Benz. It was round like a donut with a hole in the center. I believe it held 3 liters and had a Mercedes emblem molded into the side of the can.  It was made to be mounted inside of the spare tire in the trunk of early Mercedes models . I sold it years ago, but it was an interesting piece of history. I have not seen another in a very long time.

Pit Crew

Yes, I have seen these round gas cans made to snap into the rim of a spare tire before. I have owned several over the years in 15" and 16" rim size versions. The ones I had were for VW beetles from the 50s with the VW logo pressed in.
Pit Crew

I always wondered why the American cans had the large screw cap and separate snap in pour spout rather than the integral spout the Germans used. Also, I'm no expert, but I believe the cans with white crosses on the German halftrack indicated they were used for water. 

Pit Crew

Geat article.  I still have my original "Jerry Cans" purchased in 1971 for $ 10.00 each.  I have seen the same can go for over $50.00 and don't look like they are as well built as the one's I own.  The Jerry can had a screw in cap while the water can had a sort of flip cap.  During our time in "Nam, everyone was cautioned to not put gasoline in the water can.  The water can was lined while the gas can wasn't.  The gas can was sealed of course but there wasn't a liner visible.  I did have a couple of the water cans used during my escapades into the desert regions of Nevada back in the early 1970's.  Kept the gas cans but don't remember what happened to the water cans!  Getting old I suppose?  

One other thing, there were jerry cans of the 2.5 gallon variety that were strapped on the fender of the jeeps surrounded by the roll bars.  Then with one or two depending on how one did it, strapped on the back you have 20 to 30 gallons to extend your travels.  Now those were some great adventures they were! 


At the time Germany was preparing for a conflict. It became a World War arguably, up to two years later when America entered, and certainly not until war was declared by the allied countries, which it was called  later in the article. 

Pit Crew

Bud Boxes (note spelling) were popular as a chassis or enclosure for electronics projects. Here is a quote from a firm still selling them today.


"Bud Industries, Inc. has been the nation's leading electronic enclosure manufacturer for the electronics and data industries for over 80 years."

Brings back the memories!


Anyone who has used a "modern" gas can with the new spouts can sure appreciate how progress isn't always in a forward direction. I appreciate that gas cans need to be made to prevent vapors from escaping since unburned fuel vapors cause much pollution, but holding a 5-gallon can for 10 minutes while fuel ever-so-slowly dispenses through these poorly-designed spouts is not fun.


There is more information on Subject here:

Invention & Technology Magazine Fall 1987    Volume 3, Issue 2POSTFIX

"The Little Can That Could"




Invention & Technology Magazine Spring/Summer 1988    Volume 4, Issue 1


The American Can That Could

Reply by

Ray Cowdery


One may nee to look on the web Archive to find the Invention and Technology Web Site.


Well before the gas crises of the mid-seventies, I bought two at an army surplus store for $5/ea. if I remember correctly the screw-in flex spouts were $1.50 each so $6.50/can. During the gas crunch I carried these two filled cans in the trunk of my 69 Deville convertible & on one business trip I used one of them when I ran out. I still have both of them & use them still. These things are tough.

New Driver

Shortly after the war my father worked for the Dutch/ international steel drum factory (Bernard) Van Leer who produced also millions of Jerrycans all over the world. He had a business briefcase made from one of them simply opening in the two halves that ordinarily were welded together but in this hinged. It was always a hit when he walked into his business meetings and opened it and pulled out his papers in front of the amazed other attendees. Great PR for his company and I still recall it too with it’s nice expansive looking velour inner-lining but rough strong looking exterior: quite a statement just after the war was over.


I really hate what they sell as gas cans today.  Those red plastic jugs with the yellow spout that has a black safety do-dad you are supposed to press in and back on, so the gas comes through.  Then there is always that sticker that warns you that gas is flammable.  Really?  Who knew??

New Driver

American 5 gallon gas cans were made starting in 1941.  They were re-designed for automated manufacturing techniques, spot welding and roll welding.  Early cans were often galvanized. The British and German cans were for the most part manually welded together.  Most American made cans have the usual screw on cap, same size as one on a 55 gallon drum.  Early cans made for the US Marine Corps used the German style clamp filler neck but the American style can construction.


All you ever wanted to know about military fuel cans can be found on the G503 military vehicle forum:


Some people collect them!

New Driver

And than the name :  Jerrycan. The allieds called the germans  "Jerries"  (germans)  Just like the name Jeep comes fro GP (general purpose) . In fact they meant "germancan".

Pit Crew

Very good article. Well written. But as I was reading through it was waiting for the mention of "THE RED-BALL EXPRESS" The story of American service men driving Duce and a half trucks, filled with "Jerry Cans"  back and forth to the front lines and the fuel depot. Check out the book. 

Intermediate Driver

Very informative article!  A great invention taken for granted  

Intermediate Driver

I purchased a surplused 1979 Army CJ5 about five years ago.  It was probably a base MP or airport "follow me" truck.  Only the faded lettering on the hood, OD paint, military grade silicone brake fluid warning placard and an inoperative roof light switch to prove it's provenance.  My high school automotive students and I did some basic repairs and repainted it, added USMC 5th Marine Division lettering and my father's dog tag number to the hood to make it a nice commemorative vehicle for car shows, 4th of July parades, veteran's events and impromptu Iwo Jima history lessons.  I needed a gas can for the back tailgate.  I found one advertised as a 1968 Marine Corp model on Craigslist at  a second hand store near my son's house.  Stamped on the bottom was the date: 5-28-1968 and USMC.  The second hand store owner assumed USMC stood for United States Marine Corp and advertised as such for $20.  I phoned the store and told him to hold it because I had ordered my son to buy it for me for Christmas.  I also informed the fellow at the store that he was unawaringly misrepresenting the can as a U.S. Marine Corp model.  Turns out, USMC stands for United States Metal Container.   Only the military vehicle collector authenticity "police" know such trivia.  Mine looks like the one in picture 9 of 9.