The battery is one of the most useful and ubiquitous items we have on hand. It powers many things in our lives, including our smartphones and also our cars. It was even the primary source of electricity before power grids and generators were invented. To honor this powerful item, we celebrate National Battery Day on February 18.  

Charging an Electric Car, The Netherlands | Source: AS

But first, what are batteries? Batteries are sources of electric power consisting of one or more electrochemical cells with external connections (terminals) for powering electrical devices. The negative terminal (anode) is a source of electrons that will flow through an external electric circuit (an ion conductor) to the positive terminal (cathode). Chemical reactions within the device produce electricity.  

The History of the Battery 

It is believed that the earliest type of battery, the Baghdad Battery, was used in the first century. It is made of a ceramic pot, copper, and iron, and is said to have been used for electrotherapy.  

Diagram of Baghdad Battery | Source: Wikipedia

Benjamin Franklin coined the term “battery” in 1749 to describe an array of charged glass plates. The term came from the military term for weapons functioning together. Alessandro Volta was the first to build and describe an electrochemical battery, the voltaic pile, in 1800. The voltaic pile is a stack of copper and zinc plates that are separated by brine-soaked paper disks. This pile could produce a steady current for almost an hour. The voltaic pile is the first “wet cell battery”.  

Italy 10,000 Lire Banknote, 1984 | Source: Banknote World

Banknotes With Memorable Figures

The 10,000 Italian lira from 1984 honors Alessandro Volta. Its obverse side shows his portrait and also a lab set-up. Its reverse side features the Tempio Voltiano. However the note was demonetized in 2002. 

Faraday Disc / DC Electrical Generator | Source: Wikipedia

Understanding the relationship between chemical reactions, electricity, and magnetism was further developed by Michael Faraday. Faraday popularized the terms “anode”, “cathode”, “electrode”, and also “ion”. Faraday and his experiments opened the possibility of using electricity to power technology.  

United Kingdom 20 Pounds | 1990 | Source: Banknote World Educational

The 20 British pound note from 1991-1993 honors Michael Faraday. Its obverse side shows Queen Elizabeth II. Its reverse side features a portrait of Michael Faraday, Faraday in a lecture with students, in addition to a magneto-electric spark apparatus. The note was demonetized in 2001.  

First Lead Acid Battery Invented by Gaston Planté, 1859 | Source: AS

Inventors improved on batteries that used liquid electrodes, including Bunsen and Grove. Gaston Plante, a French inventor, developed the first rechargeable battery—a lead-acid version that is used in cars. Georges Leclanche invented the first dry cell, a transportable battery. Meanwhile, Thomas Alva Edison invented the alkaline storage battery in 1901. The first solar battery was invented by Gerald Pearson, Calvin Fuller, and also Daryl Chapin in 1954.  

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