The Origin Of The Name Battery. Why Is Called Battery?

So why is this called a battery, and what does it have to do with an artillery battery, which is a group of missiles or canons. As soon as 40-year-old Benjamin Franklin built his first electricity machine, he became addicted to performing shocking electricity demonstrations, writing, “My friends come continually in crowds to see them. One of the things that Franklin liked to use in these experiments was a little jar, called a Leyden Jar, that could store electricity from the electricity machine, and then give it later in a jolt. By 1749, Franklin started calling multiple Leyden jars a battery of Leyden jars, or an electric battery, as the jars reminded him of a battery of cannons.  And the name stuck.

In 1751, Franklin published a book of his letters about electricity and soon, all of Europe was debating his ideas and, recreating his “fun” experiments, with particular interest in his theory that lightning was the same electricity as the shocks he was getting at home.  Inspired by Franklin’s book, on May 10th, 1752, a retired soldier named Coiffier, at the request of his landlord, Thomas Dalibard, who gets all the credit, verified this theory, by getting sparks from a metal pole in a lightening storm in Marley, France.

However, when they later tried to install lightning rods, there were riots and they had to take them down. Safe from the rioting populace and the restrictive university, she set up an outdoor laboratory to study the effects of electrical storms.

Actually, she set up two, because they were so popular she had to relocate to make enough room. One of the students, pushing his way to see the amazing electrical results, was a biology student named Luigi Galvani.  In 1762, just after graduating, Luigi Galvani married a woman named Lucia Galeazzi, who was the daughter of the head of the science department, and both Luigi and Lucia worked full time as Lucia’s father’s deputy.

Twelve years later, in 1774, Galvani’s father-in-law died and Galvani became a full professor, and was finally required to do his own original research. In 1780, their work was poached by a rival, and so, they turned to something that was new to them, the effect of electricity on biological systems. This is when Galvani’s assistant accidentally discovered that electricity not only makes animals, like frogs jump, also, can make a dead frog jump.

To be thorough, they created their own outdoor electricity laboratory to verify the dead frogs would jump in thunderstorms too. This is when they realized that sometimes the frog would jump on calm days, which is how Galvani discovered the metal in the wire holding the frog, and the metal in the gate, could make an electric shock and make the frog jump. Galvani published in 1791, and the scientific world was entranced. Italy’s premier electrician, Allesandro Volta, declared that Galvani’s results were miraculous and dropped all of his research to focus on Galvanic experiments. However, Volta soon found that he could get a living frog to jump by placing two different metals on the living frog. And, he decided that the jumping frog leg had nothing to do with the living force, it only had to do with the power of the two different metals.




Volta then got into very public debates with Galvani’s nephew about the nature of Galvanism. Finally, in May of 1800, Volta produced a device that, in his words, combated,”the pretended animal electricity of Galvani”.  This device was a pile of zinc and silver with salt water-soaked paper between them, which Volta found would give a shock over and over again without any rubbing, or electrical machine, or thunderstorm, or dead frog in sight. In fact, Volta had just invented the battery.

Of course he didn’t call it the battery, Volta preferred the term artificial electric organ, which, not having an opinion on. Not me, nope, nope, nope. Don’t have an opinion on. Not only was it useful to shock alive and dead bodies, it was quickly found that it could also be used in chemistry to electrically separate water into hydrogen and oxygen.  Soon, multiple chemists and biologists were experimenting with what they called a Galvanic Pile. I mentioned Davy in particular because a few months after that, Davy was awarded the plum job as a lecturer at the Royal Institute of London, where he impressed British high society with his fabulous experiments, love of laughing gas, and startling good apperance.

A few years later, Davy learned that he could make a bigger battery if he turned the pile on its side.  And Davy built the world’s largest battery, in 880 square feet of the basement of the Royal Institution.  Davy proceeded to use this battery to discover eight new elements and the first practical, and ridiculously bright, electric lamp. So, why did scientists in the 1800s, call a battery a battery?

That was actually because of Volta. First, Volta came up with a name that no one liked. Second, in order to make his invention sound more impressive, he often compared it to the most powerful electric device available at that time. Like, when Volta wrote, “my new instrument imitates the effects of the Leyden Flask, or, of electric batteries”.

So to recap,  Benjamin Franklin named a bunch of Leyden jars, a battery of jars, and inspired people to play in thunderstorms. Coiffier got a spark in the thunderstorm for his boss, Dalibard, in France, and, inspired Laura Bassi, in Italy to play with atmospheric electricity and teach Franklin’s theories to Luigi Galvani. Galvani discovered that electricity could animate dead frogs, and so could two different metals. This inspired Alessandro Volta to get continuous electricity from a pile of metal and salt water, which he compared to a battery of Leyden jars.


Finally, chemists started using batteries for electrical experiments and, some, like Humphry Davy, called Volta’s device, a battery, and the name stuck because people thought Davy was cute and his science was top notch.  By 1814, Davy made his way to Como, Italy and met the 69 year old Volta. Volta gave Davy a gift of one of his original batteries, which is still on display at the Royal Institute.  On this visit, Davy brought along his young, uneducated assistant, a man who Ernest Rutherford described as, “one of the greatest scientific discoverers of all time”.

That assistant’s name?  Michael Faraday.  And that is why a battery, is called a battery.



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