I'm 47. When I was a young boy, regular alkaline batteries were pretty much the same as what we have now. I did see some cheap batteries leak, but those were the exception. Almost no one was using rechargeable batteries, that's true, but it was because we didn't care about the environment and found buying batteries and changing batteries more convenient. As an example, in 80s I bought a Sony Walkman F-601 which came with a rechargeable battery giving me about 10 hours of tape and 40 hours of radio, but I still found recharging it a pain in the ass so I often used the external case to use two regular AA batteries instead.
Batteries did improve, but not as much as you make it look.