Lewis F. Urry, the engineer who developed the modern alkaline battery, died on Oct. 19. Cause of death was not released. He was 77.
Born in Pontypool, Ontario, Urry earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Toronto after serving in the Canadian army. In the 1950s, he landed a job at Union Carbide’s National Carbon Co., where he developed the first practical, long-life battery using powdered zinc as the electrolyte. His invention eventually aided millions of people in utilizing portable devices and electronics.
To demonstrate his new battery, Urry bought a pair of model cars at the local toy store. He installed a regular D cell battery in one, and his alkaline battery in the other. The car with the carbon battery stopped moving after driving only a short distance, but his alkaline battery-powered car kept going and going. He retired from Energizer, the successor to the National Carbon Co., in May.
Urry held 51 patents including several for lithium batteries, the energy source for most cell phones and cameras. His alkaline battery was later enshrined near Thomas Edison’s light bulb in the Smithsonian Institution Museum of American History.