Georges Leclanché was born in Parmain, near Paris, France on October 9, 1839.
His father, Léopold Leclanché, was a cultured and politically active lawyer in the French government during a tempestuous time in that country's history. His mother was Eugenie of Villeneuve.
Because of shifting political winds, Léopold took his son away from Paris and, in fact, young Georges was educated in England. Upon his return to France in 1856, Georges enrolled in the école Centrale Imperiale des Arts et Manufactures (Central School of Arts and Manufactures) where he majored in metallurgy. He was far more interested in analytical and industrial chemistry though.
After completing his technical education in 1860 he became a laboratory manager in a company that manufactured lead salts. At that time, several varieties of batteries were in use or under experimentation, but they all stemmed from Alessandro Volta's invention of the voltaic pile (1800) and followed, as most batteries still do, the same principle. As Georges was beginning his career, the most common form of battery was the Planté lead-acid battery. These batteries, because they were capable of generating high surges of electrical activity, remained a popular design for automobiles, but their weight, toxicity and intensity made them impractical for household use.
Politically active like his father, Georges was forced to flee to Belgium in 1863 because of his opposition to France's involvement in Mexico. While there, he became interested in electrochemical research. He returned to Paris the following year and became a chemist in the materials laboratory of a railroad company, where he further developed his cell.
Georges' battery, also called a zinc-carbon battery, contained a different kind of cell than its predecessors. Instead of lead, he used zinc and a carbon-manganese dioxide mixture for his electrodes. He also replaced the sulfuric acid that had been in use as an electrolyte with ammonium chloride. These changes made the cell less toxic and lighter than the Planté model. The battery generated electricity as the zinc anode began to lose electrons in a chemical process called oxidation. If the battery was connected to an outside circuit, the electrical charge created by these excess electrons would be conducted by the electrolyte toward the carbon-manganese dioxide cathode. From there, the electrons were transferred externally, powering whatever device was connected to the battery. The design of Georges' cell, termed a wet cell, packed the cathode inside a porous pot, which was then submerged, along with the anode, in the ammonium chloride solution. The electrolyte could easily seep through the pot and connect the anode to the cathode electrically while keeping them physically separate. Though incapable of supplying sustained electricity, these 1.5 volt "wet" cell batteries seemed ideal for applications involving short bursts of current or requiring little maintenance. Nobody believed more in their promise than Georges himself.
In 1866, Georges patented his new battery system, which was immediately successful, so successful that in 1867, just a year after the patent, the engineer quit his job to devote himself to the production of the battery. His efforts paid off, as the battery he produced was adopted by Belgium's telegraph service the following year (1868), and Georges opened a factory to meet the growing demand for his invention and other electric devices.
The main advantages of the Leclanché cell were the low cost of its components and the cell's robust construction, which allowed it to be manufactured cheaply and utilised widely at a time when batteries were the only source of electricity.
He continued to perfect its design, as the early versions were quite heavy and prone to breakage, until his untimely death from throat cancer.
Georges died on September 14, 1882 in Paris aged 43. The manufacturing business was taken over by his brother Maurice.