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Richard D. Chapin, creator of drip irrigation, dies

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WATERTOWN — The creator of drip irrigation, Richard D. Chapin, died Friday at his home in the city.

Mr. Chapin, who was 96, has been a major part of the city’s business community after founding Chapin Watermatics in 1960.

He created his first irrigation system, a “Watermatic,” in an attempt to grow flowers in a greenhouse without having to walk to water thousands of plants individually. The initial product carried water to individual plants through smaller, separate lines. Times archive material said his first “Watermatic” sold in 1960 to Ohio State University, Columbus, and, upon success, it was rapidly adopted.

Chapin Watermatics, incorporated in 1962, opened in an assembly plant at 368 N. Colorado Ave. Mr. Chapin then traveled the world selling his “drip tapes,” which are black plastic tubes about an inch in diameter that distribute water to crops through openings in the tubes.

“We’ve helped people grow crops to feed the world,” Mr. Chapin said in a 1994 interview. “Some growers have commented that they couldn’t stay in business without drip irrigation. We had no idea that those little tubes we started with would take us to 40 countries around the world.”

Since creating the original model, Mr. Chapin created several enhancements for the product, and the company’s website said that Mr. Chapin had more than 25 patents in connection to his work.

Jain Irrigation bought Chapin Watermatics in May 2006. Jain Irrigation, Fresno, Calif., is a subsidiary of Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd., Jalgaon, India.

Beyond his professional success, Mr. Chapin used his work to aid the poor in feeding themselves.

As executor director of the Chapin Living Waters Foundation, thousands of his drip irrigation bucket kits have been distributed to more than 150 countries around the world, helping farmers produce crops in areas that would otherwise be too dry to use. He was reported to have traveled extensively, even in old age, to oversee their implementation.

“You see these people practically starving to death,” Mr. Chapin told the Times in 2005. “We’re just doing our part.”

Mr. Chapin was one of the first inductees to the Watertown City School District Distinguished Alumni Hall of Achievement in 2001.

A death notice released Saturday said funeral arrangements are being developed by Reed & Benoit Funeral Home, Watertown.

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