Origami Heaven

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The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell


The Waterbomb / Kettle / Hot Air Balloon / Soldier's Cap

This page attempts to record what is known about the origin and history of the traditional designs known as the Waterbomb and the Kettle. Please contact me if you know any of this information is incorrect or if you have any other important information that should be added. Thank you.

The Waterbomb is sometimes also known as the Ball or Balloon and the Kettle as the Sedan Chair.

The name 'Waterbomb' refers to the use of this design as a water bomb in the playground by school children, but it can also be used to produce smoke rings (in a way similar of the Playing Card Cube), as a prison for flies (whose buzzing is amplified by the container) and in other inventive ways.

The Kettle is a Waterbomb which has handles at either side. When partly filled with water it can be held over a candle, without the paper catching fire, until the water boils.

The Soldier's Cap is made by folding half a Waterbomb onto a waterbomb base.


All of these designs appear to be Western rather than Oriental in origin.

In his article 'History of Origami in the East and the West before Interfusion', published in 'Origami 5: Fifth International Meeting of Origami, Science, Mathematics and Education' in 2011, Koshiro Hatori asserts that, ''Many of the European origami models contained in Krause-Boelte's book (ie 'The Kindergarten Guide') are not included in contemporary Japanese records. The pig, house, sofa (also known as piano or organ), balloon (waterbomb), arrow (paper plane), salt cellar (cootie catcher), bird (pajarita or cocotte) and windmill ... were all born in Europe and imported into Japan along with the kindergarten system.'


The play 'The Duchess of Malfi', by John Webster, first performed in 1614 and first published in 1623 contains the words, 'Our bodies are weaker than those Paper-prisons boys use to keep flies in ...' which is often taken to be a reference to the Waterbomb design, although it could equally be a reference to some other, possibly now unknown, design.


The first definitive evidence for the Waterbomb design comes from Elise Van Calcar's book 'De Kleine Papierwerkers', which was published by K H Schadd in Amsterdam in 1863.

Pictures 14 to 16 of plate VII show a very attenuated folding sequence for folding the Waterbomb.

Picture 17 of the same plate shows an alternative to picture 15 that leads to a version of the design that Van Calcar calls the Hot Air Balloon and which is pictured in picture 26 of plate III.


Instructions for making the Waterbomb next appear in part two of 'The Kindergarten Guide' by Maria Kraus Boelte and John Kraus, which was probably first published by E. Steiger and Company in New York in 1882 where the design is called the 'Balloon' or, when made from white paper, the 'Snowball'.

'The Kindergarten Guide' also contains instructions for making two associated designs, the 'Spool' or 'Yarn Winder', which is really just a name for the intermediate form of the Waterbomb before it is inflated, and the 'Soldier's Cap', which is a hat made by folding just one half of a Waterbomb onto a waterbomb base.


A drawing of the Soldier's Cap (but not of the Waterbomb) appears in Eleonore Heerwart's 'Course in Paperfolding', which was first published in Dutch in 1895 then in English by Charles and Dible in London and Glasgow in 1896.


So far as I know, diagrams for the Kettle variation first appear in Will Blyth's 'Paper Magic', published by C Arthur Pearson, in London in 1920. The text states that ' This is another little article for the purpose of boiling Water ...'.


Diagrams for the Waterbomb (under the title 'The Ball') appear in 'Fun with Paper Folding' by Murray and Rigney, published by the Fleming H Revell Company, New York in 1928.

Diagrams for the Kettle also appear in this book, although under the somewhat odd title of 'The Sugar Bowl'.


Both designs appear (as the Water Bomb and the Kettle) in Margaret Campbell's 'Paper Toy Making', first published in 1936. In the preface to the first edition the author's son, Roy, writes, 'I shall not forget the miniature miracle of boiling water in a paper kettle over the flame of a lantern.'