Willard Case: Patent for Battery Not Using Zinc

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Willard Case applied for a patent for an ‘electrolytic liquid for storage batteries’ in New York State on April 10, 1884. That’s about all we know about this person once residing in Auburn, Cayuga County, although history does shed a few intriguing clues. Among these, Theodore A Willard founded the Willard Storage Battery Company twelve years later in 1896.

Could a Museum Hold the Key to Willard Case?

willard case

Grove Copper-Zinc Cell 1860s: Gringer: CC 3.0

The Cayuga Museum in Auburn is quite a prestigious landmark. It incorporates the Cayuga Museum and Case Research Lab, and is located on the historic Willard-Case Estate. The Willard-Case Mansion even has its own page on Trip Advisor. At that point we lose the trail.

The patent granted to Willard Case in 1884 describes a zinc-sulphate electrolyte compounded with aluminum hydrate, and using two lead electrodes, alternatively one lead and one carbon.  The anode is oxidized during charging, while metallic zinc deposits on the cathode.

willard case

Willard Battery Company 1920’s: Public Domain

This liberates sulfuric acid which combines with aluminum hydrate to form aluminum sulfate. On discharge, the aluminum sulfate ‘attacks’ the zinc on the cathode, forming zinc sulfate while ‘liberating’ aluminum hydrate at the cathode. The specific patent claim reads, “In a secondary or storage cell … neither of said electrodes being zinc … an electrolytic liquid containing zinc sulfate and aluminum hydrate.”

The link between this patent grant and early Willard lead-acid batteries is open to debate. However the similarity in names is inescapable. If it is genuine, then Case made a significant contribution to the US starter battery industry. And yet mysteriously we found almost nothing about him on the internet.

The World’s a Stage and We Are Mere Players

We know a certain Willard Case lodged a patent for a lead-acid battery in 1884. We also know he claimed to have invented a battery without a zinc electrode using zinc sulfate and aluminum hydrate. And then he disappeared into the sands of time. We wonder how many other battery pioneers are out there, waiting for someone to acknowledge them.


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Preview Image: Footprints in the Sands of Time

Grant of Patent to Willard Case


About Author


I tripped over a shrinking bank balance and fell into the writing gig unintentionally. This was after I escaped the corporate world and searched in vain for ways to become rich on the internet by doing nothing. Despite the fact that writing is no recipe for wealth, I rather enjoy it. I will not deny I am obsessed with it when I have the time. My base is Umtentweni in South Africa on the Kwazulu-Natal South Coast. I work from home where I ponder on the future of the planet, and what lies beyond in the great hereafter. Sometimes I step out of my computer into the silent riverine forests, and empty golden beaches for which the area is renowned. Richard Farrell

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