The C battery has always had our back

Quick notes:

  • The C battery is the original trooper when it came to powering toys and flashlights, but it’s losing popularity

  • The battery has a wild history, it didn’t always look like it does today

  • The oldest known battery is thought to be dated all the way back to the Mesopotamian era

The C battery, sometimes also known as the R14 battery, is a standard size dry cell battery that, in the past, was predominantly used in products such as toys, flashlights, musical instruments, and certain DIY equipment. The size of the C battery has been standardized since the 1920s, so it’s been around a while, but with advancements in technology it may be taking its final bow.

It has been a staple battery in American households for decades, finding uses in a variety of home appliances such as doorbells and model train sets. The classic boombox from the eighties takes six C cells to power, and the introduction of the radio cassette player also received its juice from the C battery.

But as times change, so do batteries. It would be an understatement to say technology has come a long way since the days of boomboxes and radio cassettes. Batteries are so common in modern society they’re basically unnoticeable, until you need one, of course. That’s when the value of these little powerhouses really reaches peak emphasis.

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Down but not out, the C battery still has uses

Though it’s not nearly as popular as it was in its heyday, when remote controlled race cars everywhere required them to get their wheels spinning to the delight of the operator, don’t throw your C batteries away just yet. There are a few obscure places where the C battery is still a necessity. Mostly lighting, such as biking headlamps and flashlights, but nonetheless the C battery still dutifully serves!

The C-battery holds its own when placed in the history of batteries

The ‘Baghdad Battery’ […] was analyzed and dated as being from the Mesopotamian era

The evolution of the battery is an interesting one. Batteries have been around for much, much longer than many people realize. Though they may seem like a relatively modern invention (the past century, at least), they actually date back as far as 250 BC. Yes, you read that correctly, batteries came before Christ.

The ‘Baghdad Battery’, named due to being found in the basement of the Baghdad Museum, was analyzed and dated as being from the Mesopotamian era. However, that ancient battery isn’t the kind you’d be putting inside your digital camera. Not only because it’s way too old to work, obviously, but also because it was not that kind of battery in the first place.

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The first true form of the battery was invented in 1800 by Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, by stacking disks of copper and zinc separated by cloth soaked in salt water. Wires connected to either end of these stacks allowed for a continuous and stable current to flow through.

A later battery innovation came in the form of the lead-acid battery, invented in 1859 and is still used in a variety of technologies to this very day. For instance, the combustion engine cars of today still utilize the lead-acid battery as their power source.

The C battery may be slowly losing its popularity, but it’s still required for certain modern devices, and will always be fondly remembered as a requirement for a variety of Christmas day toys throughout the nineties.

A deeper dive – Related reading on the 101

It isn’t just the C battery slowly being erased out of existence, plenty of tech from the past has gone the same way.

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