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A bygone battery at the museum

A bygone battery at the museum

The Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives houses many farm implements used by early settlers of the area. Most of these tools, engines and devices are comprised of wood or metal. Therefore, it is not surprising that a rectangular glass artifact would have been placed with items used in early shops and businesses. Although this glass jar resembles an old-fashioned cookie or candy container, the text at the top of the container reads “water line”. Was this a pickle jar or goldfish tank I wondered? Upon further research, I determined that it once held liquid electrolyte and metallic electrodes. 

The glass jar has now been identified as a battery case circa 1900-1930 from an old farm vehicle. Lead acid batteries such as this one were also used with a combustion engine powering an electrical generator to create light and power for off-grid farms. A “battery” of approximately 16 batteries was sufficient to power the appliances and operations of one family farm. Most houses on the Sunshine Coast did not get electricity until the 1940s. Although cities had electric lights and indoor plumbing, those in the country still relied on oil lamps, lanterns, hand water pumps and outhouses. Not to mention, churning butter the old-fashioned way.

 

An old advertisement for a Delco-Light, a battery power plant for the home or farm. SCMA photo

Light and power plants were produced by a number of manufacturers such as Delco and Western Electric and sold by companies like Sears, Roebuck and Co. The batteries were generally shipped completely assembled and filled with electrolyte, and needed only a freshening charge before being put into service. A rubber seal contained the liquid electrolyte and metal electrodes. The glass cases required periodic top-ups of water and acid but otherwise required little maintenance. The ability to generate light and power had innumerable advantages to homes, schools, churches, stores and farms in rural areas such as the Coast. Drop into the Museum to see the battery case, along with other artifacts from the settler days of the Sunshine Coast. 

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