9.2 History of Batteries

The term “battery” used to describe an electric device was first coined by Benjamin Franklin in 1748, when he used a group of glass plates to hold an electric charge and saw that they were working together much like the weapons of a military battery. The first usable battery was developed by Alessandro Volta, who also gave his name to the “volt,” which is a unit of electrical energy. The Voltaic Pile he built in 1805 was made up of zinc and copper plates, with salt water-soaked paper in between them. This was the first machine to be able to generate a steady electric current over a prolonged period of time.[28]

A voltaic pile, the first battery

Pila di Volta” by Luigi ChiesaOwn work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons.

In 1836, British chemist John Frederic Daniell fixed many problems with the Voltaic Pile by putting the anode and cathode in different electrolyte solutions. The device known as the Daniell Cell became a fixture for more than 100 years, powering telegraphs, early telephones, and doorbells in homes around the world. But the Daniell Cell still suffered from the problems that any wet-cell battery will have: liquid electrolytes require large containers to hold the liquids, and are cumbersome and heavy to move around. [29]

The first dry-cell battery was developed by German scientist Carl Gassner in 1888. Dry cells had no liquid inside them, so they could easily be transported and do things that were impossible for a wet-cell battery, like work while upside down without spilling. (3) However, it wasn’t until 1949 that the familiar alkaline battery was first produced by Lew Urry, an engineer working for the Eveready Battery Company in Ohio. Today, when you need a D-battery for a flashlight or AA batteries for a calculator, you’re using a version of Urry’s original idea of a portable, safe source of power. [28]


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