Self Irrigating Pot Patent from 1917

I’ve often blogged about the convenience of self irrigating pots (SIPs), containers that have a built-in reservoir of water at the bottom. They work well for growing vegetables on patios and rooftops. You can make your own or purchase one from several manufacturers. I had thought that Blake Whisenant, a Florida tomato grower and Earthbox company founder, had invented the SIP in the 1990s, but it turns out that the idea came much earlier. Reader Avi Solomon, sent me a surprising link to a patent for a SIP, dated 1917, by a Lewis E. Burleigh of Chicago. From the patent description:

“My invention is concerned with flower and plant boxes, and is designed to produce a device of the class described in which the proper moistening and aeration of the soil in it can be easily and cheaply effected by simply pouring water into the funnel with which it is provided until the proper amount is supplied, which amount will be indicated by the overflow from a suitably located aperture in the side thereof.”

Other than the use of gravel in the water reservoir, Burleigh’s SIP closely resembles the Earthbox and SIPs I have built out of five gallon buckets and plastic storage bins.

The interwebs reveal only one detail about Burleigh, that he owned a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. From this one factoid I infer that he had money and a progressive inclination. The SIP idea took another eighty years to finally catch on.

For more SIP information:

Read our many posts on SIPs

And visit our SIP gardening friends, the Green Roof Growers.

If SIP litigation history fascinates you, read a preliminary injunction and memoradum (pdf) between the manufacturer of the Earthbox (Laminations Inc.) and a company they accused of infringing on their patent, Roma Direct Marketing LLC, makers of the “Garden Patch.” SIP. I’ll also note that the Earthbox folks sent Josh Mandel a cease and desist letter related to Mandel’s DIY SIP website. My editorial: lets make the SIP open source as the 1917 patent suggests it ain’t a new idea.

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  1. I’m sure it’s just semantics, but I’ve always preferred “Self-Watering Container” over Self-Irrigating Planter. Mostly because when I think of SIPs I think of Structural Insulated Panels (, an energy-efficient method of building houses.

    As I said, semantics.

  2. That’s neat! What materials did they use in 1917? Clay pottery? Ah from skimming the patent summary it looks like sheet metal..? I had always wondered if it was possible to make a SIP from a non-plastic source. Plastic buckets and plant pots break down in my yard all the time from the southern exposure. Diverging from the thoughts on the sun, would you have any recommendations for solar panel installation businesses in the Los Angeles area?

  3. I’m guessing it’s metal. Was thinking about making a SIP out of a livestock watering tank, but they are kind of expensive. As for solar companies, I’m afraid I don’t know any.

  4. Hello,
    Your link “many posts on SIPs” leads to a 403Forbidden page.

    And, for what it’s worth, the Instructables “Dearthbox” gives you a shoutout but the link they give “” goes to a Dervaes page : (
    They want everything you have!!!

    • Dream Bird – thanks for the correction – I have fixed the link. And thanks for letting me know about the Instructable – I sent the author the correct URL.

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