PO Box 247 Dushore, Pennsylvania 18614-0247
Around the time of the Civil War the lead acid battery was
invented and was used primarily to power telegraph sounders. During
World War I, batteries of huge proportions were used to power
submarines. The basic chemistry of the lead acid battery hasn’t
changed much since its invention.
The invention of the ‘self-starter’ for cranking
automobile engines brought about a demand for portable, high output
batteries that could be mass produced at an affordable cost. Most
of the batteries used for stationary applications were contained in
glass jars. As glass was not practical for mobile installations, a
suitable substitute had to be found. Certain species of wood was
resistant to the action of acid and a material called hard rubber
was introduced as the principal material for constructing the
vessel that contained the battery.
An inherent characteristic of a lead acid battery is that each
cell generates two volts and as six were needed volts, to produce
the proper amount of current, the battery case had to contain three
compartments. Some of the hard rubber containers were encased in a
wood box that would provide some protection against vibration and
would allow clamps to hold the battery securely to the auto.
From the time that batteries were first used in a practical
manner and continuing up into the nineteen twenties, batteries were
so constructed that they could be rebuilt. Most communities had a
battery shop and there were specialists who plied their trade
rebuilding and selling batteries.
My first acquaintance with a battery shop was located on the
second floor of a building next to my father’s furniture store.
What circumstances would prompt a person to have a battery shop on
a second floor, defies reason. Nevertheless the shop was there and
the proprietor was named Lew.
When a battery was brought in for repair, it was generally
tested for specific gravity and each cell was tested for voltage
and amperage. If one cell was at fault it was repaired and the
battery put in service. If the entire battery was defective it
would be completely rebuilt and, for all practical purposes, it
would be as good as new.
The acid was contained in large glass jugs and had to be handled
with extreme caution. Rubber aprons and rubber gloves were the
working attire. Wool seemed to be acid resistant, but a drop of
acid on cotton meant an immediate hole. After the lead connectors
had been molded in place and the battery sealed, it was placed on
rack for charging.
The advent of more stable materials for use in the construction
of a battery and the general improvement in the battery itself soon
put an end to the battery shop as it was once known. I wonder if
the next time you turn the key on in your new car and the engine
springs to life, that the basic ingredients in the battery under
the hood are the same as Lew used to fix batteries in the