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Karl and Erna Kordesch Papers, 1906-2011

By Finding aid prepared by Trevor Sandgathe.

Collection Overview

Title: Karl and Erna Kordesch Papers, 1906-2011

ID: MSS Kordesch

Primary Creator: Kordesch, K. (Karl) (1922-)

Extent: 14.0 cubic feet. More info below.

Arrangement: The Karl and Erna Kordesch Papers are arranged by medium, subject, and chronology.

Languages of Materials: English [eng], German [ger]


Karl Kordesch (1922-2011) was a distinguished Austrian-American chemist widely recognized for his contributions to battery and fuel cell research and technology. Kordesch was jointly responsible for the invention of the alkaline primary dry cell battery, significant developments in fuel cells, and the successful creation and operation of hybrid vehicles. During his career, Kordesch was responsible for more than 100 hundred patents as well as numerous papers, articles, and books on the subject of electrochemistry, effectively revolutionized the battery industry, and pioneered electric/fuel cell vehicles. The Karl and Erna Kordesch papers contain records of much of Karl's research and publishing efforts as well as biographical records, photos, and ephemera documenting the Kordeschs' life in Nazi-occupied Austria and the United States.

Scope and Content Notes

The Karl and Erna Kordesch Papers are comprised of approximately ten linear feet of content documenting Karl's professional career from the late 1940s until his death in 2011 and an additional four linear feet of assorted personal records from both Karl and Erna. The collection contains an extensive record of Karl Kordesch's career including patent records, research notes, documentation of various business ventures, and correspondence, as well as materials regarding Karl's participation in the United States' post-World War II Operation Paperclip. The Karl and Erna Kordesch Papers also include an extensive collection of photographs documenting life in World War II-era Austria and the mid-20th century American Midwest. In addition to its physical holdings, the collection also contains more than 10 gigabytes of electronic documents including correspondence, publications, and digital photographs relating to Karl Kordesch's research.

Biographical / Historical Notes

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.

Administrative Information

Accruals: No future additions are anticipated.

More Extent Information: 36 boxes; 11 gigabytes

Statement on Access: Permission to examine the Karl and Erna Kordesch Papers will be granted to qualified researchers upon completion of an "Application for Use" form, and contingent upon the researcher's agreement to abide by the rules and policies governing collection use. See the Use of Collections page for more information.

Physical Access Note:

Materials in fair to very good condition.

Archived electronic records are viewable onsite upon appointment.

Acquisition Note:

14 linear feet and 7.5 gigabytes of materials were accessioned from Erna Kordesch by OSU Libraries Special Collections on April 22, 2011.

3.5 gigabytes of electronic records were accessioned from Catherine Kordesch by OSU Libraries Special Collections on December 28, 2011.

Related Materials: Oral history interviews conducted in 2011 with Erna Kordesch and her son Albert are available in the History of Science Oral History Collection (OH 017).

Preferred Citation: Karl and Erna Kordesch Papers (MSS Kordesch), Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Corvallis, Oregon.

Processing Information: Final arrangement by Trevor Sandgathe.

Other URL: A preliminary container list was created for this collection on or before November 19, 2015.


Kordesch, K. (Karl) (1922-)
Hacker, Viktor
Kordesch, Erna
Simader, Gunter

People, Places, and Topics

Battery industry--United States
Battery Technologies, Inc.
Electric automobiles.
Fuel cells.
Hybrid electric vehicles.
Kordesch, Erna
Kordesch, K. (Karl), 1922-
Operation Paperclip (U.S.)
Scientists--United States--Recruiting.
Storage batteries.
Technische Universitat Graz
Union Carbide Corporation
United States. Army. Signal Corps

Forms of Material

Born digital.
Compact discs.
Film negatives.
Floppy disks.
Photograph albums.
Photographic prints.
Slides (photographs).

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.