Innovation meets industry and location

The late 19th century witnessed many technological advances: the automobile and the telephone were among the most significant. After these came the introduction of countless numbers of electrically-powered household appliances. Complementing a demand for these products was a demand for portable, low-maintenance, electrochemical batteries to power them. The National Carbon Company in Cleveland, Ohio, was ideally situated to meet those demands.

Through the first decade of the 20th century Cleveland was the nation's automobile center; Detroit was not yet "Motor City." Cleveland was the leading automobile maker in the world and more Clevelanders owned cars per capita than in any other city. The development of a reliable sealed dry cell was critical to the production of cars. Batteries were used as the "igniter" in early autos much as spark plugs are used in modern internal combustion engines: an early patent says that "gasolene [sic] or other vapor-operated automobiles employ a sparking device for igniting the vapor at each alternate stroke of the engine-piston. The device in common use consists of a plurality of dry batteries…" The emergence of the magneto in 1907 and then the invention in 1911 of the electric starter, powered by a rechargeable storage battery, eventually made dry cells unnecessary for this purpose.

The telephone relied on batteries. In 1893 Alexander Graham Bell's original patents expired leading to an explosion of telephone manufacturers and providers. The expansion of telephones into more and more homes led to increased demand for batteries since dry cells powered home phones well into the 20th century.

At the same time, batteries were playing a critical role in the adaptation of electric current to household devices. The mass-production of domestic sources of power, batteries, made possible the introduction of electric doorbells, burglar alarms, electric sewing machines, and incandescent lights, including the battery-powered flashlight.


next | back | home


History of the battery | Columbia dry cell | Innovation meets industry and location
How batteries work | Landmark designation and acknowledgments

Copyright ©2005 American Chemical Society. All Rights Reserved. 1155 16th Street NW, Washington DC 20036
202-872-4600, 800-227-5558