A brief history of batteries.
The battery was invented by the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta in 1800. Before his invention, people had studied static electricity, but no one had found a source of electricity that could last more than a second. Volta showed that electricity could be generated continuously by a chemical reaction. The first batteries lasted less than an hour, but many improvements followed that made them more practical. Until around 1900, when power stations and wires for distributing electricity became common, batteries were the only supplies of electricity.
- The device Alessandro Volta invented, the “voltaic cell”, contained a weak acidic liquid that conducted charge, and had different metals at each end of a short tube. He realized that the voltage increased if he stacked a number of them.
- The word “battery” usually meant a group of objects working together. The use of the word for an electrical device is attributed to Benjamin Franklin. In 1749, he used this term for a stack of capacitors he was experimenting with. The parallel plates or voltaic cells in the first electrical “batteries” were arranged in a similar way.
- The first rechargeable battery was invented in 1859. It operated using a lead-acid mixture. This type is still used today as the starter battery in cars.
- The usual tube or block battery that is most used today is called a “dry cell”, because it does not require a fluid to conduct charges inside it. The first dry cell battery was invented by a French engineer named Georges Leclanché in 1866.
- Many improvements to batteries have been introduced over the years. The last major development was lithium-ion batteries, invented in 1985. These are rechargeable and long-lasting, which has made them very useful for things like digital cameras and cell phones.