Artifact of the Day for May 19th, 2017 — Batteries

We have recovered three different graphite rods from the site. Two have ridges, and one is a simple cylinder. One came from the midden, and two came from in or near the clinker pile. They have been really puzzling me since I first saw them in the field.

Now they are washed, it is easier to determine some of the details. I noticed the first one had some kind of brass or metal plate screwed in to one end. The second one had that part broken off, but it seemed to have some kind of black matter wrapped around it, that had been there a long time, as the rod has made a clear impression in the material. The outer surface of the material seemed to be made of some kind of white material.

Having these pieces of information, I started sleuthing. The invention of the internet has made finding information a lot easier in some cases, however, you have to know how to describe things correctly, and also be able to filter through immense amounts of material.

Carbon rod
Carbon rod
Second carbon rod, with associated matter and impression from the rod.
Second carbon rod, with associated matter and impression from the rod.

In the end, I am pretty confident that I know what these are, I think they are remnants of old batteries.

There were several kinds of early batteries. In 1859, the Planté lead-acid cell was invented, in the 1860s the Gravity cell/Daniell cell, and the Leclanché cell was invented in 1866. There is also a dry cell battery, which is the one we are most familiar with today.

Samson Battery, wet battery in a glass jar.
Samson Battery, wet battery in a glass jar.
Samson battery, note the shape of the graphite rod that sits in the copper sulphate solution.
Samson battery, note the shape of the graphite rod that sits in the copper sulphate solution.
Example of a Leclanche-type battery, like the Samson brand battery above.
Example of a Leclanche-type battery, like the Samson brand battery above.
Example of a modern dry-cell battery.
Example of a modern dry-cell battery.

This means these carbon rods can come from several different types of applications. These could be from a “Horseless Carriage” battery. I have found several examples of rods of the same dimensions and configuration labelled as battery rods from automobiles dating to the 1900s. Date-wise, this is not out of line with other artifacts we have recovered on site. The Canadian General Electric Company, Limited first leased and then bought the parcel in 1900, so perhaps these were lying around something to do with testing or prototypes that someone had taken and thrown out later.

Example carbon rods labelled as coming from a Horseless Carriage.
Example carbon rods labelled as coming from a Horseless Carriage.

They could also be some kind of storage system, or used to power a telephone or telegraph connection. Other batteries I found were used to power phonographs, or to store electricity from wind-power. It appears as though we might have examples of zinc-carbon and Leclanche batteries present in our assemblage.

My journey down the rabbit hole also helped me to tentatively ID another artifact we recovered. It is a porcelain tube with a bevelled lip on one end. In my searching, I found a discussion of someone testing Leclanche wet cells, and they posted a picture of used zinc, and beside it was something that looks very like what we found.

Artifact that may be part of a Leclanche cell.
Artifact we recovered that may be part of a Leclanche cell.
Used Zinc from a Leclanche cell -- see how the part on the right looks like the artifact we found?
Used Zinc from a Leclanche cell — see how the part on the bottom looks like the artifact we found?

 

 

 

 

 

The next step is to research further and see if I can narrow down a specific use for these batteries, or at the least a particular time period.

 

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