Thanks to Google, we have these photos of a sub-irrigation planter (SIP, aka “self-watering planter”) that is about 110 years old. When a vendor touts their "new self-watering planter" invention, just smile.
The photos are from the Cyclopedia of American Horticulture, by Liberty Hyde Bailey and Wilhelm Miller (1900). Many consider Liberty Hyde Bailey as one of the founding fathers of American Horticulture. He was also co-founder of the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS).
We can also thank our reactionary consumer horticultural education led primarily by the USDA extension program, for the fact that a hundred years later sub-irrigation is not more widely known in mainstream America.
Due mostly to our backward looking education, we are stuck in an outdated age of clay pots and drain holes. If we have a problem feeding people living in densely populated urban areas, we can trace much of the fault to this broken education system.
The planter designed by Professor W.J. Green of the then Ohio Experiment Station, in Wooster, Ohio works essentially the same as an EarthBox, Tomato Success Kit, Garden Patch Grow Box and all the other homemade sub-irrigation planters (SIPs, aka “self-watering”) including utility bucket SIPs. All use the simple principle of capillary action. Green's sub-irrigation work dates back to 1890-1891. What have we been doing since then?
Professor Green made his SIP with materials available in his day. There was no sheet plastic, no plastic pipe in those days. Instead, he used concrete and clay tiles to create the planter using a greenhouse bed.
These are some of the proven benefits of sub-irrigation that Professor Green cited. They are the same as those for present day SIPs.