Water boy

In the United States, a water boy or water girl (sometimes spelled waterboy or watergirl) was someone who worked in the field, providing water to farm workers in the 19th and early 20th century. Today, they work on the sidelines at sports events to provide water for athletes. The phrase has also been used to describe diminutive figures who serve another team or person in the business and political worlds, in a slightly derogatory manner (ex. "Bill is the CEO's water boy").

The position has a long history in athletics. In the 1869 New Jersey vs. Rutgers football game, one of the earliest American football games, an unnamed water boy is documented giving aid to a Rutgers player.[1]

Among notable people who served as water boys is President Herbert Hoover, who was the Stanford Cardinal football's first water boy.[2]


Although the term in modern American usage is now associated with sports, traditionally a water boy was a boy employed in farming or industry to provide water for farm workers or machinery. On cotton plantations, just as in modern manual harvesting or picking, the water carrier was in constant demand. This is documented in the folk song Waterboy "Water boy, where are you hidin'?" which is only the best known of many folk and plantation water-call songs.[3][4]

Early agricultural machinery also needed a water boy to supply water for cooling. The introduction of steam threshing engines required large amounts of water to produce steam, and steam threshing engine teams would employ water boys to go from farm to farm with the engine team.[5] This probably was behind the name "boy" on Waterloo Boy tractors from 1896, later products of Deere and Company, as Waterloo Gasoline engines had recently introduced water pumps to replace the traditional farm water boy.[6]

The railroads also employed water boys.[7][8]

In India the water boy, pani-wallah or bhisti, was an occupation. The title character in Gunga Din (poem 1892, film 1939) is a water boy.[9]

See also


  1. Princeton Alumni Weekly 1968- Volume 69 - Page 6 "1869... J.E. "Big Mike" Michael... Princeton's first football hero... Not only did the Knights fall, a bleacher stand toppled to the ground after Big Mike ran into it while chasing a loose ball. Big Mike was responsible for football's first waterboy because underneath the pile of spectators was a Rutgers man, G. H. Large who had been foolish enough to get in Big Mike's way. The water boy helped a groggy Large off the field.."
  2. Sweetland Karen E. Super Bowl by the Bay 1984 Page 80 "A noteworthy graduate of the first class was Herbert Hoover (the football team's first water boy), for whom Stanford's Hoover Institution is named. Since 1891, the private university has grown and prospered in all respects, with a 1983 ..."
  3. Sheila Tully Boyle, Andrew Buni Paul Robeson: The Years of Promise And Achievement - 2005 Page 147 "The work song, "Water Boy," is built around the cry for water of a gang of condemned and laboring men. Robeson sang the refrain ( the water cry itself, "Water boy, where are you hidin'?") a cappella and very softly, and the verses themselves ..."
  4. Harold Courlander - Negro Folk Music U.S.A. 1963 - Page 86 "In the cotton fields and the cornfields of the present time, as on the old plantations, the water carrier is in constant demand. The call for the water boy (or girl), in one or another of ... Some water calls such as "Water Boy, Where Are You Hidin'?" have come to be regarded as true songs, and may be heard on phonograph recordings. The water call given here (Example 14) was recorded In Alabama in 1950."
  5. Verdi Gilbertson Verdi - Page 65 2010 "One year I was fortunate enough to get a job with a steam threshing outfit as a water boy. The steam engine that powered the threshing machine used a lot of water and burned coal. This steam outfit was owned by Gust Goulson. The steam ..."
  6. Randy Leffingwell John Deere: A History of the Tractor - Page 70 - 2006 "It's likely the makers of this nearly self-sufficient machine used the name to parody the "water boy" who was still needed to fetch and deliver cooling water to the older-style large tractors around the farm. While Deere's own tractor had four ..."
  7. George Newman Fuller - Local histories of several Michigan counties - Page 380 1926 "At fourteen he was the first water boy employed by the Detroit, Lansing & Northern railroad, now a part of the Pere Marquette system. He then became deeply interested in railroad construction and was determined to learn all he could acquire ..."
  8. Official proceedings of the New York Railroad Club New York Railroad Club - 1922 - - Volume 33 - Page 6899 "As for your Toastmaster, he was the first water boy on the Long Island Railroad, and I believe that road was opened up in 1844 or thereabouts."
  9. Ken Dancyger The Director's Idea: The Path to Great Directing 2012 "The waterboy, Gunga Din (Sam Jaffe), wants to be a soldier. His transformation from waterboy to posthumous military hero gives the film its emotional arc. "
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