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Did Canada Invent the Battery?

Article-Did Canada Invent the Battery?

Image courtesy of YouTube canada-battery.jpg
In a Crown Royal Super Bowl ad, rocker Dave Grohl thanks Canada for giving the world, among other things, the battery. True? Not quite.

In an entertaining Crown Royal commercial that premiered during Super Bowl LVII, Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl gives thanks to the nation of Canada for giving the world a long list of things—from Canadian musicians such as Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Rush, to daily-use inventions such as the paint roller, the egg carton—and even “the battery.”

And that’s when your editor set aside the corn chips and sat up straight: Is Grohl really crediting our neighbors and friends to the north of inventing the battery? Could he be right?

In a word, no.

A short (that's not a pun) history of the battery

According to my painstaking research (by calling up Wikipedia during the game), the development of the battery goes like this: In the mid-1700s, while Benjamin Franklin (an American) and others used Leyden jars to store an electric charge, the first true battery was developed by Allessandro Volta (an Italian).

Okay, but can we credit Canada for at least giving us the first practical battery?

Again, no. A chemist named John Frederic Daniell created the Daniell cell, which provided longer, more reliable current, while also being safer, than Volta’s designs. History credits it with being the first practical battery. (Daniell was English.)

Improvements and variations were developed throughout the 1800s, including the gravity cell, created by Callaud (who was French); the Poggendorf cell, put together by Johann Christian Poggendorff (of Germany); and the Grove cell, invented by William Robert Grove (of Wales).

The lead-acid battery was invented in 1859 by Gaston Planté (of France), paving the way for the lead-acid car battery years later.

In 1886, Carl Gassner (a German) developed and patented the first dry cell. In 1899, Waldemar Junger, (another German), developed a rechargeable nickel-cadmium battery. Meanwhile, Thomas Edison (an American) was working to develop an alkaline battery, succeeding in 1901.

But what about Canada?

So, where is Canada in all of this? It turns out that Grohl, though incorrect in saying the great nation created the battery, is right to credit it with giving us a battery—and  very important one, at that:

In the mid and late 1950s, an engineer named Lewis Urry—yes, a Canadian!—developed the first practical, long-lasting alkaline batteries, which went on the market in 1959. His design consisted of a manganese dioxide cathode, a zinc anode, and an alkaline electrolyte.

The entire history of battery development is fascinating and I’m just touching on it here: It’s easy to let yourself get lost in the Wikipedia links.

But for our purpose today, it’s sufficient to say that, first, Canada didn’t invent the battery. (Sorry, Dave).

But second, every time you put fresh alkalines into your flashlight or your kids' toys, you can indeed join Dave Grohl in thanking Canada. Whether you toast them with Crown Royal is, of course, up to you.

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