The history of the lawn sprinkler is intertwined with the history of lawns. An 18th century fancy of the royals and wealthy in Europe, the love of lawns spread to places where they could not be maintained with natural rain. It became necessary to carry water to areas that needed supplemental supplies and as the popularity of lawns spread, this required more and more extra effort. Sprinklers, invented in 1871, made lawns possible for everyone.
Hero of Alexandria built a device called an aeolipile in the first century. A form of steam engine, it worked on the same principles as lawn sprinklers did nearly two millennenia later, except it used steam instead of water for propulsion.
Formal lawns first appeared in France around the 1700s. They required a large staff to maintain, but soon spread to England. In the 19th century, homeowners moved out of the cities and gardening became a hobby. Landscape designers touted areas of clipped grass, but lawns didn’t really grab the popular imagination until municipal water systems allowed the use of hoses to deliver water in the 1870s.
First Lawn Sprinkler
With garden hoses possible, the first US patent titled "lawn sprinkler" was awarded in 1871 to J. Lessler of Buffalo, New York (#121949). Other patents for water-propelled, rotating lawn sprinklers followed and hoses, reels, nozzles and sprinklers were advertised by the turn of the century.
The iconic arched sprinkler heads that rotate back and forth on lawns across America were made from aluminum tubing, plastic and rubber by the end of the century. They had adjustable oscillating heads with a metal arm that sprayed out a curtain of water in an adjustable fan shape to an area up to 600 square feet (55.7 sq. meters). Oscillating sprinklers use water power to move an elliptical cam that moves the sprinkler arm. A gear train slows down the speed of the water to one mile an hour for even distribution.
The future of lawn sprinklers depends on the public’s growing awareness of water conservation and the impact of thirsty lawns that need supplemental watering. Sprinkler use is already restricted in many arid regions.