Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center

Karl and Erna Kordesch Papers, 1906-2011

Biographical Note

Karl Kordesch is recognized as a pioneer of battery and fuel cell technology responsible for vastly extending the utility of non-petroleum electrical energy sources through the invention and refinement of electrochemical devices and processes. Through his invention of the alkaline primary battery cell, work with rechargeable batteries, and development of fuel cell/battery hybrid vehicle systems, Karl Kordesch contributed greatly to the reduction of energy waste and the global use of compact, portable energy sources.

Karl was born in Vienna, Austria on March 18, 1922 and Erna Bӧhm was born six months later, on September 8, 1922. After graduating from high school in 1940 Karl began studying at the University of Vienna. In 1941, Karl was conscripted into the German military where he served until the end of World War II in 1945. In 1946, he and Erna were married and he returned to his studies at the University of Vienna. Karl graduated in 1948 with his doctorate in chemistry and worked as a University Assistant at the University of Vienna. In 1953, Karl accepted a position with the U.S. Army Signal Corps through Operation Paperclip, an Office of Strategic Services program designed to supplement American scientific research with Axis personnel in exchange for U.S. citizenship and other benefits. Karl and Erna moved their family to New Jersey where he served with the Signal Corps until 1955 when he joined the Union Carbide Corporation. There, he developed the manganese dioxide-zinc primary cell which became the leading consumer battery worldwide. He also worked extensively with fuel cells, contributing new technology to the Apollo space missions and developing a hydrogen fuel cell/battery system capable of powering his personal vehicle, an Austin A40, efficiently for more than three years.

In 1977, Karl left his position at Union Carbide to return to Austria with Erna where he worked as director of the Institute for Inorganic Chemistry at the Graz University of Technology. There, he continued his research into rechargeable batteries, fuel cells, and more efficient methods for powering vehicles. In 1986, Kordesch founded Battery Technologies Inc., a company responsible for the manufacture of rechargeable batteries sold under Rayovac. Karl also formed the Kordesch & Associates, Inc. consulting firm in 1988. In 1997, Kordesch accepted a position as vice-president of Apollo Energy Systems where he oversaw fuel cell research for use in consumer vehicles. The Kordeschs moved to Eugene, Oregon they lived until Karl's death in 2011. Karl Kordesch was survived by his wife, Erna Kordesch, and his four children. Erna Kordesch passed away on November 20, 2013.

During his lifetime, Kordesch produced more than one hundred patents, hundreds of articles and papers, and numerous books. He was an active participant in the scientific community, frequently attending and presenting at meetings and symposia, collaborating with colleagues around the globe, and acting as a leader in his field through service as the Secretary General of the International Society for Electrochemisty. His achievements have been recognized through his receipt of the prestigious William Exner Medal, the Vittorio de Nora Gold Medal Award, and the Erwin Schrödinger Prize, among others.

Timeline for Karl and Erna Kordesch

1922 Kordesch is born on March 18, 1922 in Vienna, Austria.
Erna Bӧhm is born on September 8, 1922 in Reichenau, Austria.
1940 Kordesch begins his first year at the University of Vienna.
1941 Kordesch is conscripted into the German Armed Forces, interrupting his studies at the University of Vienna.
1944 Kordesch is wounded while serving in Russia.
1945 Kordesch is released from military service at the end of World War II, having attained the rank of Lieutenant Battery Leader.
1946 Kordesch and Erna Bӧhm are married on June 22, 1946.
Kordesch returns to the University of Vienna to complete his studies.
1947 Johanna Kordesch, Karl and Erna's first child, is born on February 24, 1947 in Vienna, Austria.
1948 Kordesch receives his doctorate in chemistry from the University of Vienna.
Kordesch works as a University Assistant at the University of Vienna until 1953.
1949 The second Kordesch child, Albert, is born on August 15, 1949 in Vienna, Austria.
Kordesch accepts a part-time consulting position for Wiener Isolierrohr, Batterie, und Metallwarenfabrik, a battery manufacturer located in Vienna while continuing to work at the University of Vienna.
1953 As a part of Operation Paperclip, Karl Kordesch is invited to join the U.S. Signal Corps.
Kordesch and his family move to the United States and Karl begins work as scientific staff member of the U.S. Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.
1954 Catherine Kordesch, the third Kordesch child, is born on January 24, 1954.
1955 Kordesch accepts a position as Battery Group Leader at the Union Carbide Corporation Research Laboratory in Parma, Ohio.
1956 The fourth Kordesch child, Martin, is born on July 22, 1956.
1957 Kordesch and two colleagues file for a patent of the alkaline dry cell battery which would ultimately become the Energizer D-cell.
1962 Kordesch is appointed group leader of the Fuel Cell Section of the Corporate Development Department at Union Carbide.
1967 Kordesch receives the Wilhelm Exner Medal from the Austrian Association of Small and Middle-Sized Enterprises.
Kordesch constructs a hybrid electric motorcycle using a hydrazine fuel cell.
1969 Kordesch returns to the Consumer Products Division of Union Carbide as a Senior Research Associate.
1970 Kordesch retrofits an Austin A40 sedan to run on a hydrogen fuel cell, making it the first practical hydrogen-fueled car ever produced. This vehicle served as his primary means of transportation for the following three years.
1973 Kordesch is appointed Union Carbide Research Fellow.
1977 Kordesch takes a position as full professor at the Graz University of Technology and director of the Institute for Inorganic Chemistry.
1981 Kordesch begins a five-year term as Secretary General of the International Society for Electrochemistry.
1985 Kordesch is appointed Dean of the Science and Technology Faculty at the Graz University of Technology, a position in which he serves until 1987.
1986 Kordesch is awarded the Vittoria de Nora Gold Medal for outstanding achievement by the U.S. Electrochemical Society.
Battery Technologies, Inc. is founded by Karl Kordesch and Wayne Hartford.
1988 Kordesch & Associates Inc. is founded by Karl as an electrochemistry consulting firm.
1990 Kordesch receives the Erwin Schrödinger Prize from the Austrian Academy of Sciences.
1991 Kordesch receives the Frank M. Booth Prize of the Royal Society of Great Britain.
1992 Kordesch retires from the Graz University of Technology and the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry.
Kordesch is awarded the Auer V. Welsbach Medal.
1996 Kordesch and Günter Simader publish Fuel Cells and Their Applications.
1997 Kordesch becomes vice-president of Apollo Energy Systems where he was responsible for overseeing further development of the company's line of fuel cells.
2009 Kordesch is recognized by the American Chemical Society for fifty years of service.
2011 Kordesch dies on January 12, 2011 in Eugene, Oregon.
2013 Erna Kordesch passes away on November 20, 2013 in Eugene, Oregon.

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