Since the Vietnam War, the U.S. military standard one quart canteen has been made of plastic, gradually replacing the aluminum and stainless steel canteens in use since the M1910 version. But plastic canteens did not originate in the 1960s, having actually been introduced during World War II.
PVT Shantes Baxter, a Basic Combat Training Soldier with Co. B, 3rd Bn, 13th Infantry Regiment, takes a drink from her one quart plastic canteen during a break, 24 June 2009.
The original M-1910 one quart canteen was made of aluminum. Since aluminum was urgently needed for aircraft, in 1942 stainless steel canteens were substituted for aluminum and alternative materials were investigated. A promising idea was to make canteens of plastic, a fairly new material at the time. For this purpose, Dow Chemical Corp. developed a canteen prototype in 1942 made of easy-to-mold Ethocel, an opaque amber (yellow/orange) thermoplastic (ethyl cellulose). The Ethocel plastic canteens were fielded in 1943, but only in limited quantities. Small numbers of these canteens have survived and are of hightened interest to collectors.
The Ethocel canteens used a black resin plastic (Bakelite) cap held by a chain, very similar to the cap on metal canteens used after 1942. Two cap shapes have been noted, as with the WW II metal canteens. The canteen was molded in two parts that were then joined at a horizontal center seam. Its shape was the same as the M1910 metal canteens, with the bottom half and joining seam sized to accommodate the standard M1910 nesting metal canteen cup.
The one quart Ethocel plastic canteen (Stock Number 74-C-85) was made in 1943, during WW II. by producers including:
Dow Chemical Corp.
Mack Molding Co.
Plastic One Quart Military Canteen - M1961
130th Engineering Bn Soldiers, Puerto Rico National Guard, drinking water from their one quart plastic canteens, during Convoy Ambush Training, Salinas, Puerto Rico, 16 April 2003.
After considerable experimentation, a one-quart canteen made of olive drab polyethylene was designated the M-1961 Army standard in September of 1962. A battlefield assessment report from Vietnam, issued 30 Aug 1965, had this to say about the plastic canteen:
The plastic canteen presently in the supply system has proven decidedly superior to the metal canteen. Lighter in weight, it reduces the overall individual load and completely eliminates metallic noises incident to the handling of the current canteen. Expedite the issue of the plastic canteen to all units presently serving in combat areas.
With the endorsement of field troops, the plastic canteen rapidly replaced the aluminum and stainless steel canteens, although the metal canteens continued in use as secondary standard until the early 1970s. Aluminum and CRS canteens continued to be issued until about 1971/72 when orders required all units to turn in the remaining, well-used metal one-quart canteens.
Markings on bottom of 1 quart plastic canteen.
The plastic canteen consisted of the olive drab polyethylene plastic bottle with a matching plastic cap that was held to the canteen by a broad plastic strap, instead of a chain. The shape and size of the plastic canteen were nearly identical to the metal canteens it replaced. The nesting metal canteen cup was not changed, since the cup needed to be heated over a flame or other heat that would damage plastic. The canteen cover evolved from the insulated cotton design to the (Cover, Water Canteen (insulated nylon)), described on the linked page.
In 1966 the M-17A1 protective mask was introduced, which had an integral drinking tube. The cap of the M1961 canteen was changed to an NBC cap by the addition of a small connecting hole in the center of the cap with a cover that snapped into place. Replacement NBC caps, called the M1 cap, were issued for older canteens then in use, first in black then olive green. More information about the use of canteens with gas masks is found on the linked page.
The NSNs for the M-1961 plastic canteen and associated parts are:
Canteen, Water 1Qt w/strap-on M1 cap
NSN 8465-01-115-0026 MIL-C-43103
Canteen, Water 1Qt w/strap-on plain cap (obsolete)
NSN 8465-00-889-3744 MIL-C-43103
Cover, Water Canteen (olive green)
NSN 8465-00-860-0256 MIL-C-43742
Cap, Water Canteen (M1 cap for gas mask use w/ 1qt & 2qt canteens)
NSN 8465-00-930-2077 MIL-C-51278
Strap, Cap Water Canteen
NSN 8465-01-082-6449 MIL-C-43103
Canteen, One Quart, Flexible - 2003
Canteen, One Quart, Flexible.
In 2003, the U.S. Army fielded a collapsible version of the M-1961 plastic canteen. This is a one quart canteen made of heavyweight soft plastic, similar to the two quart canteen. Air can be squeezed out as water is consumed from the canteen, reducing the storage space and eliminating any sloshing noise. When the canteen is empty it can be collapsed to almost nothing and stored in the rucksack. In addition, the collapsible canteen improves water flow through the drinking tube of a protective mask since the canteen body can be squeezed to create pressure.
On 28 November 2003, the Canteen, One Quart, Flexible was certified for purchase from nonprofit agencies employing persons who are blind or have other severe disabilities. On 13 July 2008, the same item was deleted from the certified list.
The cap of the collapsible canteen is the same M1 NBC cap as used on other plastic canteens for gas mask compatibility. This canteen fits in the standard issue nylon one quart canteen cover and will nest with the metal canteen cup.
The Canteen, One Quart Flexible is identified by NSN 8465-00-NIB-0041. It is available through military supply channels, base stores, or commercially as the Hydramax Echo 1 Qt Canteen by Skilcraft.
Material on this page adapted from "Survey of U.S. Army Uniforms, Weapons and Accoutrements," by David Cole (November 2007 and updates), a classroom reference for the Army Museum System's Basic Curatorial Methods Training Courses, as well as other published sources. Thanks to Thomas Chial for making his extensive research available.
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