Jerry Can History: A brief history of the NATO Fuel Container

Posted by Robert McJannett on

In WWII the need for efficient fuel distribution systems became urgent as Armies became increasingly mechanized. 

A brief history of the NATO Jerry Can


The Wehrmacht-Einheitskanister, as it was known in Germany, (which quite literally meant “Armed Forces Unit Canister”) was first developed in 1937 by the Müller engineering firm in Schwelm to a design by their chief engineer Vinzenz Grünvogel. A similar design was used in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War, where they had a company logo for Ambi-Budd Presswerk GmbH. Among others, the Wehrmacht had specified that a soldier should be able to carry either two full containers or four empty ones, which is the reason the triple handles were fitted.

To achieve the required filling and draining speed, it was fitted with a large spout and flip top closure. A hole in the closure retainer made it possible to fit a securing pin or wire with a lead seal. The rectangular shape made it stackable. The indentations ensured a full can would not be severely damaged when falling from a vehicle, while a dip coat of paint on the inside protected it from corrosion.

By 1939 the German military had thousands of such cans stockpiled in anticipation of war. Motorised troops were issued the cans with lengths of rubber hose in order to siphon fuel from any available source, as a way to aid their rapid advance through Poland at the start of the Second World War.

Once the Americans saw one they gave it a nickname (taken from the American US Forces slang term “Jerry” for Germans) and identifying the superior design, adopted the cans for their own use.

The Allied Forces at the time had their own 4-gallon fuel canisters, but they were no match for German engineering. The Allied versions were poorly designed, made from thin, mild, easily-punctured steel that was welded together, leading to fuel leaks and vehicle fires. A wrench was required to remove the cap in order to access the fuel inside plus you needed a funnel with a spout as well. The handle was a single strip of bent steel, which was uncomfortable for a soldier to carry over distances. Most were only able to be used once; they were then modified for stoves or filled with soil and used as makeshift sandbags. They were aptly nicknamed “flimsies.”

The German version was a masterpiece, an original design that remains untouched today. This version could hold up to 20-liter/5.3-gallons of fuel, (24.5% more volume than the Allied version) built from two pieces of stamped steel that interlocked with one another – thus eliminating leaks altogether while simultaneously driving down the costs of production.

With three comfortable rounded stamped handles, the cans could be passed from one soldier to the next bucket-brigade style, as one soldier would use the far-sided handle to hand over the exposed free handle on the other far side, rapidly and easily exchanging hands down the line.

The iconic ridge designs on the jerrycans were part of the stamping process and allowed for contraction and expansion of the interior liquid based on fluctuating temperatures. Additionally, the way the Jerrycans were constructed was from two pieces of stamped steel which interlocked together, requiring only one weld around the “equator.” What resulted was one complete unit. Thus, preventing leaks and making the overall manufacturing process cheaper, easier and faster.

The lid was attached to the device (as was the aluminum ring pin to keep everything locked) with no funnels or external spouts required. Different colours were introduced so the interior contents could easily be determined. It was hard for Americans to resist adopting the design for their own purposes.

Where the Allied version was 5 parts total, the Jerrycan was one complete unit, requiring no tools to access the contents. The cam-lever lid mechanism was integrated, so it couldn’t be misplaced. Even the aluminium ring pin (used to keep the lid mechanism locked with an airtight seal) was integrated with a welded detent, so it couldn’t be fully removed (or lost), as finding this tiny part out in the field would be quite difficult

Today, the Jerrycan is defined as a metal or plastic packaging of rectangular or polygonal cross-section. In certain states, colours designate what lies inside as well: red for gasoline, yellow for diesel, and blue for kerosene. They’ve made their way around the world and are used in practically every country on earth where individuals require extra fuel and water for their journeys. There were adopted by the Soviets during the Cold War and NATO by default. Now, odds are wherever there’s an off-road track, backcountry race, military vehicle presence, farms, or even doomsday bunkers, odds are there’s a Jerrycan not too far away.

Looking for the "BEST JERRY CAN" in Canada? Look for Wavian Fuel Cans!

Wavian Fuel Cans are also sold by Holley under the Anvil Off-Road brand. These are real Wavian Fuel Cans complete with a Wavian label!  Wavian Fuel Cans are available in Canada from Performance Improvements.




As of 2009, all new portable fuel containers in the US must meet new Mobile Source Air Toxic regulations based on the California Air Resources Board’s(CARB) regulations, and they must meet the requirements of the Children’s Gasoline Burn Prevention Act. Of course, these regulations seem like they aim to correct serious issues, but we feel it has created useless features that cause more spillage and harm to the environment.


Well we decided to go with the best Jerry cans for spillage, quality and ease of use. We didn’t find many, but we feel the choices we selected are perfect for anyone looking for the best can available. After extensive research we found that the best cans are the NATO cans. These are high quality products built for rugged use.

Now if you do not select any of the items on our list, make sure you choose cans that are designed to NATO specs and NOT NATO style. We hope you enjoy the information provided.


This is the best jerry can available. It holds 5.3-gallon, leak-proof and it comes directly from Wavian, the factory that has supplied many NATO countries for over 75 years, and are the highest quality fuel cans on the market today.

Rigorously tested, they boast a number of features, including 0.9 mm steel walls, an interior rust-proof reznol lining, internal breather pipe for splash-proof pouring, a three handle configuration for easy carrying, a leak-proof bayonet closure, and a locking pin for the cap.

Wavian currently produces the only EPA, CARB, and DOT approved steel fuel cans that are 100% legal in all 50 US states. Includes spout and an adapter for vehicles with smaller filler receivers. FREE SHIPPING for all Wavian Fuel Cans in the continental US.

To read the full article featuring the complete top 10 Jerry Cans, click here to goto


Looking for the "BEST JERRY CAN" in Canada? Look for Wavian Fuel Cans!

Wavian Fuel Cans are also sold by Holley under the Anvil Off-Road brand. These are real Wavian Fuel Cans complete with a Wavian label!  Wavian Fuel Cans are available in Canada from Performance Improvements.

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