Dry Cell Battery

Dry cell batteries are the batteries the world is familiar with, the one’s that run portable electronics. Voltaic pile batteries, that preceded dry-cell batteries, required constant maintenance.


To contextualize this era, the telegraph was gaining widespread adoption. However, there was no power grid to run the telegraphs at this time. The first power plant, Edison’s Pearl Street Station, did not go online until September 1882. Electrification of the US, and the rest of the world took decades after that.

Therefore, telegraphs ran on batteries. During the US Civil War, there were entire wagon trains full of wet-cell Voltaic Pile batteries powering telegraphs. However, there were problems with Voltaic Piles. They were extremely heavy, required constant maintenance, and operated most efficiently with highly caustic sulfuric acid. Riding over dirt roads in wooden buggies filled with giant vats of sulfuric acid, especially in a warzone, was a lousy job.

Given the high utility of telegraphs, and their immense ability to generate wealth, scientists suddenly had a financial incentive to find better methods to generate electricity. One of these methods was the dry-cell battery, a disposable battery with no liquid inside. Dry cell batteries were lighter, safer, and vastly more efficient than Voltaic piles. It’s important to remember Volta’s batteries were a scientific experiment, not a commercial product.

Leclanché Cell Battery

In 1866, French engineer Georges Leclanché built a better battery to power telegraphs. It contained less caustic liquid and was enclosed; there was no need to continually add liquid. His battery was called the Leclanché cell, since batteries were individual cells rather than a large liquid vat. Leclanché batteries vastly reduced the cost of battery maintenance.

In 1885, German scientist Carl Gassner improved the Leclanché cell by figuring out how to remove all liquid, an entirely dry battery. Gassner is the patent holder of dry cell batteries in Europe and the US. Japanese businessman Sakizou Yai claims to have invented a better dry cell batter and certainly built a large company selling the batteries.