“Ride Like Hell”; ‘500 Pounds‘ (1993)
Your first act of youthful anarchic aggression was tossing Pablum, a Canadian invention, into your mom’s face, or jamming a spoonful up your nose.
Your second act of youthful aggression was jamming twelve D-batteries into the portable stereo permanently attached to your arm so you could shut your parents out and impress your stoner friends with your ability to take 120db straight into your brain without bleeding or caring that in ten years you’d be stone-cold deaf and wearing a hearing aid the size of a small car just so you could listen to a plane takeoff.
And that completely inalienable right to force my musical tastes, no matter how insanely vile, into the brains of “adults”, and to look and act like a complete fucking idiot while doing it was introduced to the world by the portable electronic device. And the man who made that portable device possible was Lewis Frederick Urry, a Canadian chemical engineer and inventor.
Thanks to Urry, while I was in high school my friends and I would walk from the school down the main street of our little village, to the chip stand and back with my 36″ long and 10″ high portable radio blasting Anti Pasti, Charged GBH, Bunchofuckingoofs or some song aboot giving headbutts to random people.
That’s right, you can thank him.
In 1959, while working for Eveready, a division of Union Carbide — and later known as Energizer — Urry invented the alkaline battery and, later, the lithium battery. Forty-eight years later at least 80 percent of the dry-cell batteries in the world are based on Urry‘s work.
Born in Pontypool, Ontario, Urry earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Toronto after serving in the Canadian armed forces. By the time Urry retired he held 51 patents including several for lithium batteries, the energy source for most cell phones and cameras.
In a bizarre and almost certainly unintentional piece of irony Urry’s first alkaline battery was later enshrined close to Thomas Edison’s light bulb in the Smithsonian Institution Museum of American History. There are a lot of people who believe Edison invented the light bulb (he didn’t, Canadian James Woodward invented and patented the first light bulb, then sold the patent to Edison) and the batteries we use today (he didn’t). Urry’s designs and patents allowed electronic communication devices and… ahem… ‘other’ devices to become portable and handheld.
Previous batteries were massive, clunky and lasted for a few hours — at most — under the least stressful conditions. According to a 1999 article by the Associated Press “the typical U.S. household includes 18 devices that use [alkaline] batteries. Americans used an estimated four billion [alkaline] batteries in 1998.”
When I was a kid I was going through aboot twelve “D” batteries a month and now my digital camera is eating up aboot eight “AA” every six weeks (mostly because I forget to turn it off).
The Convenience Revolution of the 1950’s had left people limited to the length of their extension cords, but Urry’s invention unleashed the Mobile Gadget Revolution we have today. Lewis Urry died at the age of 77, after a short illness, on October 19, 2004.