Battery (Voltaic Pile)

This was the first reliable and predictable source of electricity, a battery that generated its own power. It led to many future innovations. Most notable is the telegraph, that relied on voltaic piles as a power source. During the Civil War, wagons filled with giant batteries deployed to the front lines and powered telegraphs. Volta’s battery laid the groundwork for the Second Industrial Revolution much like Watt’s condensing steam engine had for the first.

In 1799, Volta created the “Voltaic pile,” the first battery that would hold a continuous and steady electrical charge. Although called a battery it chemically generated its own electricity. He also discovered methane.

There are many innovations related to electrification but Volta’s work is arguably the most important. Within weeks of his Voltaic battery, Nicholson and Carlisle discovered electrolysis to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen.

During the US Civil War, 60 years later, enormous voltaic piles powered telegraphs. 

Volta’s batteries were plates of zinc and copper with an electrolyte; he used both diluted sulfuric acid and also saltwater brine.

Volta Chaired the University of Pavia for most of his career, focused on family life rather than material gain. He lived well as a distinguished academic but did not meaningfully profit from his innovations. The volt, a measure of electrical force, is named after Volta.