From bicycle factory to famous battery

By NEMO Science Museum

What
started in the early 20th century as a side venture quickly grew into a major
brand. The White Cat battery literally gave power to the people, making
electricity available to the masses, anywhere it might be needed.

Batteries by De Witte KatNEMO Science Museum

Around the year 1920, bicycle manufacturer Herberhold recognized the battery’s potential as an alternative power source for bicycle lights.

Batteries could be used to replace the dynamo, which made cycling more of an effort.

Article about the opening of the new battery factory [newspaper Het Centrum] (1930-02-26) by Mij. tot Exploitatie v/h Dagblad Het CentrumNEMO Science Museum

That’s why the Utrecht factory started producing batteries in 1921 as a side venture, to bring in some extra revenue.

But sales grew so fast that a new factory was opened soon, devoted solely to the production of batteries.

Batteries enjoyed great popularity in those days, and Herberhold wasn’t the only player in the Dutch market.

There were some fifteen battery factories in the Netherlands alone!

Batteries by De Witte KatNEMO Science Museum

Herberhold’s Utrecht factory produced various types of batteries, most of which were sold regionally at first.

But thanks to Herberhold’s national network of bicycle shops, they soon became available throughout the country.

The batteries were sold under the brand names White Cat and Windmill (Dutch: Molen).

Brochure of Herberhold battery factory, showing the different brands of batteries that were sold (1937-01-01) by Online museum 'de Witte Kat'NEMO Science Museum

But shops also sold them under their own names.
This was common practice back then.

Advertisement for Witte Kat batteries [Haagsche Courant] (1929-12-21) by Haagsche CourantNEMO Science Museum

The manufacturer not only used its network but also published ads to promote its White Cat battery.

It didn’t take long for the brand to become the number one battery in the Netherlands.

Batteries by De Witte KatNEMO Science Museum

Thanks to its high quality, the battery enjoyed a good reputation among Dutch consumers.

This was partly due to the factory’s German engineers, who brought in a wealth of knowledge about battery development.

In the factory's laboratory, the engineers worked on innovations like the layered battery, in which several flat batteries were stacked on top of each other.

This production method remained in use well into the 1960s.

Its chief advantage lay in the fact that it was a simple way to make larger, more powerful batteries, from 9 volts all the way up to 90.

Newspaper article about closing of Witte Kat factory [Nederlands Dagblad] (1976-02-05) by Nederlands DagbladNEMO Science Museum

White Cat remained the Netherlands’ number one battery until the 1970s, when the factory was taken over by Varta.

Following this acquisition, battery production was outsourced to France and Germany, and the original factory in Utrecht was closed down.

Batteries by De Witte KatNEMO Science Museum

Although the White Cat brand has since disappeared, batteries themselves have become an integral part of our everyday lives.

The average Dutch household has about 100 of them in use at any given time!

Think about it: they’re in TV remotes, smoke detectors, flashlights, speakers, bike lights...

Thanks to batteries, you always have access to electricity – even when there’s not a socket in sight!

Credits: Story

Object of the month – September 2020

Every month NEMO Science Museum shows one of the 19,000 unique objects in its collection: an item that was used in everyday life in days gone by and that shows how technology has changed over the course of time.

This story was created with the help of online museum De Witte Kat batterijen, the Utrecht Archives and (Dutch newspaper) Nederlands Dagblad.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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