FRENCH ENGINEER AND INVENTOR
In 1866 Georges-Lionel Leclanché was granted French patent no. 71,865, which described a remarkable advancement in the technology of the primary electrochemical cell . Typically called a battery, an electrochemical cell generates electrical current by chemical reactions at the two electrodes of the cell, the cathode and the anode. In early batteries the current was originally carried through an electrically conductive liquid; later improvements substituted a conductive paste for the liquid. Although Leclanché did not invent this type of battery, commonly called a dry cell, his version, only slightly modified since then, is used today to power millions of devices from toys to portable computers.
Leclanché was born on October 9, 1839, in Paris, France. His father was a cultured and politically active lawyer in the French government during a tempestuous time in that country's history. Because of shifting political winds, young Georges and his father spent the better part of eighteen years away from Paris. Upon his return in 1856, Leclanché enrolled in the École Centrale Imperiale des Arts et Manufactures, where he majored in metallurgy . He was far more interested in analytical and industrial chemistry, however, and after graduating in 1860, he became a laboratory manager in a company that manufactured lead salts.
Politically active like his father, Leclanché was forced to flee to Belgium in 1863 because of his opposition to France's involvement in Mexico. While there, he became interested in electrochemical research. He returned to Paris the following year and became a chemist in the materials laboratory of a railroad company, where he further developed his cell. After his cell was patented, he started a company for its manufacture and continued to perfect its design until his untimely death from throat cancer in 1882, at the age of forty-three.
Although electrochemical cells had been developed and used since the beginning of the nineteenth century, they suffered several practical disadvantages: They generally contained costly or dangerous ingredients (such as platinum or mercury), and they were composed of delicate components in liquid solutions, which limited their portability. Leclanché's original cell used a manganese dioxide/carbon cathode, a zinc anode, and ammonium chloride as the electrolyte solution . Although this was technically a "wet" cell, later advances in design replaced the electrolyte solution with a conductive paste. The main advantages of the Leclanché cell were the low cost of its components and the cell's robust construction, which allowed it to be manufactured cheaply and utilized widely at a time when batteries were the only source of electricity.
Davis, Jack (1967). "Georges-Lionel Leclanché." Electrochemical Technology 5:487–490.
Heise, George W., and Cahoon, N. Corey, eds. (1971). The Primary Battery, Vol. 1. New York: Wiley.