Chapter 1: When was the battery invented?
One of the most remarkable and novel discoveries in the last
400 years has been electricity. One may ask, “Has electricity
been around that long?” The answer is yes, and perhaps much
longer. But the practical use of electricity has only been
at our disposal since the mid-to late 1800s, and in a limited
way at first. At the world exposition in Paris in 1900, for
example, one of the main attractions was an electrically lit
bridge over the river Seine.
The earliest method of generating electricity occurred by
creating a static charge. In 1660, Otto von Guericke constructed
the first electrical machine that consisted of a large sulphur
globe which, when rubbed and turned, attracted feathers and
small pieces of paper. Guericke was able to prove that the
sparks generated were truly electrical.
The first suggested use of static electricity was the so-called
“electric pistol”. Invented by Alessandro Volta (1745-1827),
an electrical wire was placed in a jar filled with methane
gas. By sending an electrical spark through the wire, the
jar would explode.
Volta then thought of using this invention to provide long
distance communications, albeit only addressing one Boolean
bit. An iron wire supported by wooden poles was to be strung
from Como to Milan, Italy. At the receiving end, the wire
would terminate in a jar filled with methane gas. On command,
an electrical spark is sent by wire that would detonate the
electric pistol to signal a coded event. This communications
link was never built.
Alessandro Volta, inventor of the electric battery.
Volta’s discovery of the decomposition
of water by an electrical current laid the foundation of electrochemistry.
©Cadex Electronics Inc.
In 1791, while working at Bologna University, Luigi Galvani
discovered that the muscle of a frog contracted when touched
by a metallic object. This phenomenon became known as animal
electricity — a misnomer, as the theory was later disproven.
Prompted by these experiments, Volta initiated a series of
experiments using zinc, lead, tin or iron as positive plates.
Copper, silver, gold or graphite were used as negative plates.
Volta discovered in 1800 that a continuous flow of electrical
force was generated when using certain fluids as conductors
to promote a chemical reaction between the metals or electrodes.
This led to the invention of the first voltaic cell, better
know as the battery. Volta discovered further that the voltage
would increase when voltaic cells were stacked on top of each other.
Four variations of Volta’s electric battery.
Silver and zinc disks are
separated with moist paper. ©Cadex Electronics Inc.