Monday, April 18, 2011

A Brief History of Watering Cans

(created for an exhibit at work, formatting never comes out from word -> blogger but oh well)
A Brief History of Watering Cans

The term “Watering Can” is believed to have been coined by Lord Timothy George of Cornwall, an avid gardener who wrote about watering cans in his diary in 1692. Before this containers used to water the plants in the gardens were simply known as “Watering Pots”

It wasn’t until the late-1800’s that the next major innovation in watering cans would take place when an Englishman named John Haws would introduce a new design. John had served as a civil servant for Queen Victoria in the mid-1800’s in Mauritius. (Mauritius is a small island off the coast of Madagascar, near the southwest tip of Africa) While in Mauritius he took up the hobby of growing vanilla plants and found the current design for watering cans to be awkward and hard to maneuver. The popular style for the time had one large handle that arched from the front to the back of the can; this made it hard to balance the can whilst watering plants that were on higher shelving.

(Watering can with a single front to back handle in the French style)

When Mr. Haws had retired from his service and returned home to England he found himself in the midst of a gardening explosion. In these Victorian era gardens the wealthy upper class was searching for the perfect home and garden to put on display. This search called for a wide variety of plants that were now being grown in greenhouses throughout England (thanks in part to the increased availability of glass at this time) These new ornamental gardens and greenhouse cultivation required a lot of hand watering, and Haws was there to step up with his new take on the watering can.

In 1885 John Haws applied for and was issued the first ever patent on a watering can with his new handle design. His patent claimed:

“This new invention forms a Watering Pot that is much easier to carry, and at the same time being much cleaner, and more adapted for use than any put before the public”

The key innovation his Haws design was the addition of a second handle. The previous French design had just one large front to back handle. However, Haws design had a “carrying” handle on top and a “tipping” handle on the back of the can to allow a more even distribution of water and his design also called for a spout located at the bottom of the watering can to allow for easier watering of plants on high shelves.

(From, a Haws Watering Can based of his patented design)

The Haws watering can is still popular today, though Michael Deas, did later also get a patent by replacing the top mounted handle created by Haws and mounting a single round handle at the back for ease of pouring. The slight improvement took off and is still a popular design that is seen today.

Historic or modern, plastic or metal, decorative or plain, a watering can has become an essential piece of equipment in every gardeners tool shed. We here at the Historical Society of Decatur County hope you have enjoyed our watering can display.

Watering Can Fact: The spout is capped with a fitting made of small holes where water is expelled from a very gentle flow to a heavier flow, dependent upon the delicacy of the plant being watered. This ‘cap’ is also known as a ‘rose’.


(A Watering Can Rose)


  1. this is the most awesome essay on the history of watering cans that i've ever read.

  2. I'm going to say that my failure to have an introduction paragraph is disappointing but I'm glad you like it. It took some research to put this together.