When was the battery invented?

One of the early attractions that gained public attention was an electrically illu­minated bridge over the river Seine during the 1900 World Fair in Paris.

The use of electricity may go back much further. While constructing a new railway in 1936 near Baghdad, workers uncovered what appeared to be a prehistoric battery. The discovery was known as the Parthian Battery and was believed to be 2000 years old, dating back to the Parthian period.

The battery consisted of a clay jar filled with a vinegar solution. An iron rod sur­rounded by a copper cylinder penetrated into the liquid and produced 1.1 to 2 volts of electricity.

Figure 1

Not all scientists accept the Parthian Bat­tery as being a source of energy because the application is unknown. It is possible that the battery was used for electroplating, such as putting a layer of gold or other precious metals to a surface of base metals. Figure 1 illustrates the Parthian Battery.

The earliest method of generating elec­tricity occurred by creating a static charge. In 1660, Otto von Guericke constructed the first electrical machine consisting of a large sulfur globe which, when rubbed and turned, attracted feathers and small pieces of paper. Guericke was able to prove that the sparks generated were electrical in nature.

The first practical use of static elec­tricity was the ‘electric pistol, which was 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 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. To signal a coded event, an electrical spark would be sent by wire that detonated the electric pistol. This communications link was never built.

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 proved.

Prompted by these experiments, Volta initiated a series of experi­ments using zinc, lead, tin or iron as positive plates; copper, silver, gold or graph­ite served as the negative plates.

Figure 2

Volta discovered in 1800 that certain fluids would generate a continuous flow of electrical power when used as conductors. This discovery led to the inven­tion of the first voltaic cell, more commonly known as a battery. Volta discovered fur­ther that the voltage would increase when voltaic cells were stacked on top of each other. Figure 2 illustrates such a serial connection.

In the same year, Volta released his discovery of a continuous source of electricity to the Royal Society of Lon­don. No longer were experiments limited to a brief display of sparks that lasted a fraction of a second. A seemingly endless stream of electric current was now available.

France was one of the first na­tions to officially recognise Volta’s discoveries. France was approaching the height of scientific advancements and new ideas were welcomed with open arms, much to the support of the country’s political agenda. By invitation, Volta addressed the Institute of France in a series of lectures at which Napoleon Bona­parte was present as a member of the institute.

Volta’s discoveries so impressed the world that in November 1800 the French National Institute invited him to lectures at events in which Napoleon Bonaparte participated.

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