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Powering Through Time: The Fascinating History and Evolution of Batteries

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

It seems impossible to think of a world without electrical power. Electronics seem to govern just about every aspect of our daily lives. With electricity becoming more and more prevalent every day, it can be difficult to step back and see just how far we have come. When thinking about electrical power, it is more than likely that the image of a battery will enter your mind. But how did we go from a species with no way to harness the power of electricity, to having cell phones powered by batteries?

The Original “Battery”

The first use of the term “battery” as we use it today can be found all the way back in 1749. The famous Benjamin Franklin was conducting some experiments with electricity. He was the first to use the term “battery” with regard to electricity. Franklin’s battery consisted of a series of capacitors that he had wired together. The capacitors were wired together in series, which Franklin discovered could produce a higher voltage. Franklin’s battery was not the typical power source that we picture today. That would not be introduced until the year 1800.

The First Real Battery

In 1800, a man by the name of Alessandro Volta came up with a new idea for a self-contained power source. This would be what is known as the first real battery according to our modern definition. This battery was known as the Voltaic Pile. The design of the Voltaic Pile would be laughable today, but it set the guidelines for how batteries would be constructed for centuries to come. The Voltaic Pile consisted of small pieces of Copper and Zinc stacked on top of one another. The zinc on the bottom is the anode, with the copper on top acting

as the cathode. The pieces would be separated by segments of cloth that had been soaked in salt water, acting as the electrolyte. This system of organization, with the anodes, cathodes, and electrolytes, revolutionized how electricity was harnessed. The Voltaic Pile would go on to become the blueprint for batteries to come.

The Teenage Years of the Battery

After the Voltaic Pile changed the way batteries could harness electricity, many other designs came forward, adding to the revolutionary design put forward by Alessandro Volta.

The first of these designs that we will discuss is the Trough battery. Invented by William Crookshank, essentially this design laid the Voltaic Pile onto its side, preventing the electrolytes from leaking and improving overall efficiency and power output.

In 1836, John Fredrick Daniel pushed the design of the battery even further with the development of the Daniel Cell. This design utilized the same copper cathodes and zinc anodes as the batteries we have seen so far, but its electrolytes were made

up of copper and zinc sulfates. Much different than the rudimentary electrolytes that we have seen so far. This design increased the lifespan of the battery significantly. This increased reliability meant that the Daniel Cell saw much more widespread use. In fact, the measurement for 1 volt is equivalent to the power output of a single Daniel Cell.

The Dry Cell Battery

In 1886, Carl Gassner invented the first dry-cell battery. This was done by changing how the electrolyte of the battery was organized. Until now, a battery's electrolyte+

has been a fairly messy thing to deal with. But with Gassner’s design, the battery introduced an electrolyte paste. Since this design did not have to worry about the electrolyte spilling, the door was opened for portable uses for the battery. This design would eventually be refined over time and turned into our modern Alkaline battery.

Lithium Batteries

The Alkaline battery is one of the most recognizable inventions in history. Chances are, when you picture a battery, this small cylindrical power source pops into your head. But there is another kind of battery that we all use extensively every day. In the 1970’s it was discovered that Lithium’s high electrical potential could be harnessed and used in batteries.

The lithium battery was made available, but not refined

until the 1990s with the introduction of the Lithium Ion battery and the Lithium Polymer battery. Lithium Ion

batteries are extremely efficient, but with their less dense electrolyte, the Lithium Polymer battery proved to save weight and deliver just as much power as its slightly heavier counterpart. Lithium Polymer batteries are seen and used by all of us every day on our phones. Its lightweight and small design makes it perfect for powering a small, handheld device like a smartphone.

Powering Us Through Time, and Into Tomorrow

The invention of the battery has had an unimaginable influence on our society. Even today we use batteries, or some form of electrical power in almost every aspect of our daily lives. The importance of the battery cannot be overstated. From the crude voltaic pile to the magic of modern Lithium-Polymer batteries. Electrical power has been the backbone of our society since the 1800s. As time goes on, it proves to be more important each day.



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