100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview
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Electric Battery
Year of Invention: 1799

What Is It? A device that stores electric energy and produces a constant flow
of electric current from that store.

Who Invented It? Alessandro Volta (in Padua, Italy)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

Batteries are essential elements of virtually every electronic, and many electric, device that exists in our modern world. Your watch, flashlight, iPod®, radio, car, camera, clock, cell phone, cordless drill, laptop computer, and thousands of other devices all depend on batteries.

Batteries were also the first portable energy source. Batteries became an essential element for the development of the fields of physics, electromagnetism, and chemistry.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

In 1663, Otto von Guericke, mayor of the Prussian town of Magdeburg, invented the first electric generator. He built a cage with a spinning ball of sulfur to create a static electricity charge. That started interest in electricity.

Electricity became a prime focus of eighteenth-century science. By 1720, static electricity was well established as a popular party game in Europe and America. Partygoers held hands as they shuffled across a thick carpet before the end person touched a metal doorknob to shock them all.

In 1745, Pieter van Musschenbroek, a professor at the University of Leyden in Holland, invented the Leyden jar. This was a glass jar, partly filled with water and sealed with a cork. A long nail pierced the cork and reached down to water level. Leyden jars became the rage of European and American society. Leyden jars were the first device capable of storing an electric charge. (Now a device that does what a Leyden jar did is called a capacitor.)

By 1752, American Benjamin Franklin had conducted numerous experiments with Leyden jars and had vastly improved their capacity. Franklin’s Leyden jars were potentially deadly things. Franklin suspected that the two known forms of electricity (static and lightning) were just two forms of the same thing. To prove it, he flew a kite into storm clouds to collect static electricity from the clouds—his famous kite experiment. Two months later,

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