Lew Urry

Inventor of the first commercially viable alkaline battery

Born: 1927, Pontypool, Ontario

Lew Urry graduated from the University of Toronto in 1950 with a Bachelor of Science degree. He got a job working for the Eveready battery division of Union Carbide in Toronto, then moved to Cleveland at the company's request in 1955, where he continued his research into creating a ‘better battery’.

Urry examined past failed attempts at creating an alkaline battery and experimented with different combinations, before discovering that powdered zinc was the best electrolyte. He changed the shape of the battery from a button to a cylinder, then gave a demonstration using toy cars in the company cafeteria. One car used the best battery at the time, carbon zinc, and the other contained his prototype. The car with the alkaline battery outperformed the other by a considerable margin.

Urry's creation was patented in 1959 and, in 1999, it was placed in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, in the same room as Edison's light bulb.

Lew Urry holds over 50 US patents for various types of batteries and, although mostly retired, continues to mentor researchers today.

Additional trivia:

Urry married in 1960 and became an American citizen.

Eveready was rebranded as Energizer in 1980 and six years later, Union Carbide sold the division to Ralston Purina.

More information on:

How batteries work
Smithsonian National Museum of American History


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Added 07 September 2003.