dry cell batteries

Dry cell sizes were first designated by single letters. The system ANSI uses today is more complicated, but many of the letter names survive as the sizes of flashlight batteries, even some that consumers no longer use, such as "F" – inside the common 6-volt lantern battery are four F cells.

Battery capacity is rated in ampere-hours, but manufacturers don't usually provide such an estimate because the amount of current that can be drawn from a dry cell depends on such factors as the weather, the age of the cell, the cut-off voltage, the size of the load, and how quickly the power is withdrawn. If you put new batteries in a flashlight, turn it on and let it run until the batteries expire, you will have received fewer ampere-hours from them than if they were used for an hour a day until exhausted. Nonetheless, an estimate of the capacity in ampere-hours of the various sizes of carbon-zinc cells is: AA, 0.4; C, 1.5; D, 3.4; F, 5.2; G, 6.1. Alkaline-manganese cells have capacities roughly 1.5 to 2.5 times higher.

The chart gives typical maximum recommended current draw in milliamperes. The batteries described here are those most often encountered, such as those used in flashlights. Different types of batteries may be produced in the same cell size. For example, a C cell made for clocks is optimized for a much lower current draw but a much longer life than a C cell made for flashlights.

Some Cylindrical Dry Cells
Designation Nominal
Maximum Recommended Current
Alkaline Nickel
U.S. IEC 1.5 volts 1.5 volts 1.25 volts
AAA R 03 1332 1 ¾ 20 100 600
AA R 6 916 1 3132 25 150 1,000
C R 14 1 ¹⁄32 1 1316 80 480 3,000
D R 20 1 1132 2 1332 150 650 10,000**
F R 25 1 ¼ 3 716
G R 26 1 1132 4 532 300
No. 6 2 58 6 ¹⁄16* 1500
N   0.445 1.180 20 85 300

* Height does not include height of terminals.

** Many consumer D-cell ni-cads are simply C-cells in a D-cell package. These have a capacity of around 1800 mAh.

Some Rectangular (Prismatic) Dry Cells
Volts Height*
Comments, Example
6 10-1332 2 58 2 58 Common lantern cell. Height depends on terminal style: Fahnestock clips, screw terminals, or springs.
9 1 1516 1 1⁄32 11⁄16 Common "transistor" battery. Snap terminals.
9 6 7⁄16 8 3764 4 1⁄16  
12 4 1516 5 11⁄32 2 2732  
12 7 732 10 716 2 2332 Rounded ends, strap handle.

*Height includes height of terminals.

ANSI C18.1 – 1969; ANSI C18.1 – 1947.

U. S. Dept of Commerce, National Bureau of Standards. Letter Circular LC 965 (supercedes LC877). November 15, 1949.



The Bureau of Standards prepared the first edition of this circular and the specifications for dry cells during the period of the war. The specifications were submitted October 31, 1918, to a committee consisting of representatives of the manufacturers, the War Industries Board, the War Department, and the Bureau of Standards.

Experience in testing dry cells since that time has indicated certain changes in the specifications to be desirable, and much more data as to the performance of dry cells and flash-light batteries is now available. A revised edition has therefore been thought advisable.

The Bureau of Standards called a conference of leading manufacturers, various Government departments, and a few of the largest individual users of dry cells and flash-light batteries to consider the standardization of sizes and the revision of the specifications for them. This conference met at the Bureau of Standards on December 5 and 6, 1921.

The conference considered 17 different sizes of dry cells and standardized 7 of these sizes. It considered 30 different sizes and kinds of flash-light batteries and adopted 8 of these as standard sizes. It also considered assembled batteries of larger size cells for ignition and similar work of which there are approximately 30 different sizes being made at the present time and adopted 6 of these as standard sizes. Two sizes of batteries for use with radio apparatus were standardized. It is expected that the elimination of the many sizes for which there is little demand and which will no longer be considered standard should result in considerable saving in the cost of manufacture and increase the convenience of the public who buy these batteries to the extent of approximately 150,000,000 per year.

In addition to standardizing sizes, the conference standardized performance for the sizes which were accepted as standard. The bureau was requested to make a revision of its specifications for dry cells in conformity with the standardization of sizes and Performances as adopted by the conference.

The bureau received hearty cooperation from the manufacturers in the work which was undertaken. It was suggested by manufacturers attending the conference that future conferences should be held at the Bureau of Standards as occasion may arise. The bureau welcomes this suggestion and is glad to assist the industry in so far as it is able.

U.S. Dep't of Commerce.
Circular of the Bureau of Standards No. 79.
Electrical Characteristics and Testing of Dry Cells. (2nd edition)
Washington: Gov't Printing Office, 1923.

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