The global legacy of Watertown’s Chapin Watermatics

Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 3:58 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - When a Watertown manufacturer closes this fall, a lot of history will go with it. But, the founding family’s legacy will live on not just in the north country, but around the world.

Decades before Jain Irrigation bought the Water Street plant, the building had been home to Chapin Watermatics.

Richard Chapin founded the business in 1962 after inventing a more efficient way to water the flowers at his Colorado Avenue greenhouse.

His daughter, Mary Westcott, remembers how her father would tinker in the greenhouse in the evenings.

“I knew my father was clever and I knew he was persistent, and he loved, loved to be productive,” she said.

In the 1950s, Chapin invented a mist watering machine for his greenhouse business. He also designed a tube system to feed water directly into flowerpots.

Then he came up with drip irrigation tape - an invention that changed the way crops are grown throughout the world.

“The irrigation drip tape delivers the water directly to the root zone and so you can put your fertilizer through it. You’re not wasting water by broadcasting it and sprinkling it around. And it will increase yields, crop yields, by nearly 50 percent,” said Lynne Mitchell, who worked for Chapin Watermatics.

“Drip irrigation has helped agriculture progress significantly here in the United States and around the world,” said Jefferson County Agricultural Coordinator Jay Matteson.

Chapin, his wife, and his children worked together to operate Chapin Watermatics for more than 40 years. It truly was a family-run business with each member playing a role.

“They will go down in history as manufacturing the very best irrigation drip tape in the entire world and I’m just very proud to have worked for such a wonderful family,” said Mitchell.

In his later years, Richard Chapin founded Chapin Living Waters Foundation to help people in arid third-world countries grow vegetables.

“The poorest of the poor so to speak that were literally hungry many, many days of the year,” said Westcott.

He invented the Bucket Kit, a drip irrigation system using a bucket elevated above the ground. Filling the bucket with water a couple of times a day keeps 100 vegetable plants alive when there’s no rain.

Bucket Kits are now saving lives in more than 100 countries.

“Right here in Jefferson County, we’ve had people that have invented this agricultural equipment that has helped the world prosper better. That’s pretty cool,” said Matteson.

Richard Chapin passed away in 2014 with more than 25 U.S. patents to his name and a legacy of building a better world one drip at a time.