Attention History Buffs
I am soon to give a presentation regarding "Irrigation
Technology", with specific emphasis on 'drip or microirrigation'. I have already
delivered my outline for my talk to the appropriate committee. However, I have stumbled a
bit by not finding any "history of drip irrigation" for the mini-introduction
for drip. Here I am, owner of this list and the MIF and have NO information on the history
of the technology that we discuss.
I've gone through all of the irrigation books at the Center for Irrigation Technology
library, but could not find anything specific or solid enough to document as fact. All I
found was that an Israeli farmer in the 40's found
that his crops grew better near a leaky pipe. I've also heard that drip irrigation was
developed by the Israelis for some kind of defense mechanism in order to keep as few
people out of the field (you can blame that one on
Dr. Glenn Hoffman who relayed the story to me about 10 years ago).
Hence, I am inviting all the history buffs in the audience to share their knowledge of
drip irrigation history, specifically the early days in Israel. I will reference your
comments during my talk and obviously the
information will eventually be created as an archive for future Trickle-L-ers and the
A response to Richard Mead's request for drip history.
I dug through my old files and found that one could really
get carried away with all the history, but the best source for a mini-introduction appears
to be an article in Scientific American, Nov., 1997, Vol. 237, No. 5, pages 62-68.
Maybe of interest are two books, one from Israel "Drip
Irrigation" by Golgberg, Gornat, and Rimon, 1976, from Drip Irrigation Scientific
Publications, Kfar Shmaryahu; and the other form Rainbird "Trickle Irrigation
Design", 1975, by Keller and Karmeli, Rainbird,Glendora, CA.
If I were doing the history in the USA, I would have to
mention such things as the Drip/Trickle Irrigation magazine (journal?) and the IDIA (the
International Drip Irrigation Association), and such people as Sterling Davis, USDA-ARS
(started working with drip in 1962), Don Gustafson, Bernarr J. Hall both of the UC Cop.
Ext., San Diego. Also don't forget the sugar cane in Hawaii, and some of the earlier
companies like Chapin.
There is no dispute that the concept of drip irrigation goes
back for centuries.The U.S. patents in my possession include: Patent# 146,572 dated
January 20, 1874 Nehemiah Clark of Sacramento, California This patent describes a pipe
with a "non-clogging" leaking connection. 379,392 March 13, 1988 Augustin S.
Hains of Nashville, Iowa
This patent describes a tube fitted into the pipe which either goes directly to the roots
of the tree on the surface or goes into a tube driven into the ground to apply the water
subsurface. 2,612,075 Dec 9, 1952 William Sedar of Santa Barbara, California This patent
describes a plastic tube with very small holes which jet the
water to the trees - early micro-jets? 3,420,064 Jan 7, 1969 Simcha Blass of Tel Aviv
This patent describes the original Netafim in-line emitter with a spiral flow path.
3,456,884 Dec. 15, 1970 Atwood M. Timpe of Los Angeles, California. This patent describes
subsurface pressure compensating drip irrigation
emitters. There are numerous British, French and German patents which are not in
A very simplified history as it probably happened.
The concept of drip was well known. After the WWII (1945)
plastics technology took off rapidly and drip
irrigation became economically practical. The first such work was micro-tubes and took
place in England and France in greenhouses. I do not know when Chapin started in the USA.
About 1960 a Mr. Symcha Blass
who was an employee of a British Water Agency, emigrated to Israel to retire. There is a
"fable" (which could be true because I heard it from his own mouth) about Symcha
Blass sitting next to a tree which was near a leaking faucet and Eureka! But there is also
no doubt that he knew about the British greenhouse application of micro-tubes. With the
desperate water shortage in Israel he decided that this technology would be useful for
growing crops in the field as well as in greenhouses. The microtube was first wrapped
around the feeding tube to keep it out of the way to prevent damage. This was followed by
a molded coupling with the spiral molded in. And in turn this developed into the
ubiquitous two piece in-line dripper described in Blass 3,420,064. Blass did his work at
Kibbutz Hatzerim and from this came forth Netafim.
In 1969 Blass/Netafim licensed both Bill Menzle of Iplex Plastics, Australia and myself of
DuroPenta, South Africa. Bill gave birth from Iplex to RIS to Hardie to Toro Ag. I gave
birth to Agriplas, to Agrifim (in partnership with Netafim) to Geoflow. Brown Sprinkler
also came into the early US history. The tape story was developed in the US - over to some
The problem of entering fields due to land mines is the story
told by Motorola Israel and is comparatively recent.
My apologies for those I missed out. I am sure several other old timers can add to this
Are you familiar with "Trickle Irrigation for Crop
Production" by Dale Bucks, et al.? There is a section on the early history of drip.
(I think it is an ASAE publication).
Again, you did it. As in any other new discovery we have to
learn that the "roots" of our ideas are deep, both in time and space.
Let us try to separate a virtual presentation in, at least,
1) the concept of localized irrigation (later drip, trickle,
2) the practical use without patent, research, design, materials, etc..;
3) the international priority as patent without any known application;
4) the international recognized priority of a new irrigation method
(which involves water, energy and agrochemical supply, monitoring,
conduits to the base of the plant, minimizing the inputs use, improving
quantity and quality of yields, and protecting the natural resources).
Now, with the help of actual fast communication we can
exchange ideas, knowledge, personal or international experiences, patents, practices and
store them in the special reserved "history pages" of the MIF. It might not be
in time for your presentation, but it will be a treasure of international experience for
anyone who wants to know what happened before asking for a patent, or priority.
From my modest knowledge of localized irrigation, centuries
ago Persians were burying a special clay type long neck bottle close to the base of the
trees grown in dry climate and very deep water supplies where no plant could survive. From
time to time they were refilling every bottle, and trees were growing as irrigated by
classical surface methods. This ancient method was improved by modern Iranian scientists
in order for the three roots not to break the buried water leaking bottles.
Plants grown in green houses, or gardens of Europe were
irrigated by some kind of drip irrigation before W.W.II.
I am sure that other countries have wonderful experiences to share, too. Our colleagues
shall try to find old patents, as Mr. Rodney Ruskin found for the U. S.
One thing is clear to me, that the most important work for
the development of the complex micro irrigation method, as we know it today, was done in
the U. S. and Israel. That was possible partly because of the development of low-cost
plastics, microelectronics, increased non agricultural demands for water, and partly
because of the extraordinary work of scientists, practitioners and industry of Israel to
show that the so called poor soils, dry climate, and very limited water supplies are not
barriers to obtain better, wonderful, profitable crops.
These achievements were shared with specialists from all over
the world, through drip irrigation congresses, technical conferences and trade shows,
organized specialty training courses, bilateral scientific exchanges which make any new
discovery as a kid with international reputed "fathers in low".
Ioan C. Paltineanu
For first hand discussion it might be worth your while to
call Jim Anschuz (I'm afraid I don't have a current number for him.) and Charles Burt at
Cal Poly. Both were involved in engineering some of the first production drip
installations for the old Superior Farming that was part of Getty Oil 20 years ago. I
think that Superior even tried SDI on grapes way back then.
The publication "Trickle Irrigation Design" by
Rainbird has a good section on Development of Trickle Irrigation.
A short summary is given below.
Began in Germany in 1860 using subsurface tile pipe.
Perforated pipe was introduced in Germany in 1920. Experiments using subsurface perforated
pipe carried out in USSR 1923 and other countries from 1930's. Trickle irrigation as used
today was developed in early 1940's in England. A significant step was the development of
long path emitters in Israel in 1950's.
If you want a copy or the section i can fax it to you.
Don Gustafson (Farm Advisor, San Diego Co, retired) was a key
leader in putting the Avocado growers onto drip on the hills in San Diego Co. This
occurred in the 1960's. Most of these growers have since switched to microsprinklers.
I don't know where Don is at this time. The County Director is Diane Wallace and her
e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I've
copied her in the hopes she will know Don's whereabouts.
For more on the American story of drip history, you should
also take a look at a book sold by The Irrigation Association titled Water and the Land-A
History of American Irrigation by Robert M. Morgan. It has a chapter on low-volume drip
Among the discussion is Dr. Lester Kellar designed a low-volume system for avocados which
he discussed during an irrigation symposium in Riverside, CA in 1917.
Also with more on regards to Chapin. Dick Sr. started the individual pot drippers in the
greenhouse in 1954. Watermatics was launched in 1962. His next product, the Dew Hose drip
tape came shortly thereafter. Norman Smith, an extension agent on Long Island, was
instrumental in moving these tapes into the vegetable grower market in 1965. The story
goes that Bernarr Hall saw what Smith was doing with vegetable growers and brought the
drip tape to the West coast. Chapin licensed the twin-wall (Bi-wall) to Reed (Hardie and
on..), and of course continues in the tape manufacturing business. Dick Sr. is still
active in promoting the drip concept to under-developed countries (Note: there is still
great market potential folks) while Dick Jr. keeps the company going.
Look forward to the history archives.
Larry Duane Geohring