German scientist, Dr. Carl Gassner, is issued a German patent for the first “dry” cell battery, which uses zinc as its primary component. A U.S. patent will be issued to Gassner in 1887. His battery is much like today’s carbon-zinc, “general purpose” batteries, although most people use alkalines.
Prior to the rise of electrical generators and electrical power grids from around the end of the 19th century, batteries were the main source of electricity. Successive improvements in battery technology permitted the rise of major electrical advances, from early scientific studies to the rise of telegraphs and telephones, leading eventually to portable computers, mobile phones, electric cars and multitudes of other electrical devices.
In 1886, Carl Gassner obtained a German patent (No. 37,758) on a variant of the Leclanché cell, which came to be known as the dry cell because it did not have a free liquid electrolyte. Instead, the ammonium chloride was mixed with Plaster of Paris to create a paste, with a small amount of zinc chloride added in to extend the shelf life. The manganese dioxide cathode was dipped in this paste, and both were sealed in a zinc shell, which also acted as the anode. In November 1887, he obtained the U.S. Patent 373,064 for the same device. This cell was easy to handle and portable. It became the prototype for the dry battery industry.
Unlike previous wet cells, Gassner’s dry cell was more solid, did not require maintenance, did not spill, and could be used in any orientation. It provided a potential of 1.5 volts.
The first mass-produced model was the Columbia dry cell first marketed by the National Carbon Company in 1896. The NCCimproved Gassner’s model by replacing the plaster of Paris with coiled cardboard, an innovation that left more space for the cathode and made the battery easier to assemble. It was the first convenient battery for the masses and made portable electrical devices practical. The flashlight was invented that same year.
The zinc-carbon battery (as it came to be known) is still manufactured today.