1800 - 1819

Alessandro Volta invents the first primitive battery, discovering that electricity can be generated through chemical processes; scientists quickly seize on the new tool to invent electric lighting. Meanwhile, a profound insight into the relationship between electricity and magnetism goes largely unnoticed.


Voltaic pile

Voltaic PileItalian physicist Alessandro Volta announces to the Royal Society of London his invention of the first continuous electric current source and the predecessor to the battery, the voltaic pile, which he built by repeatedly layering silver, moist cardboard, and zinc and connecting the silver and zinc strata located at opposite ends of the pile with a wire.

Splitting water

Shortly after Volta’s announcement of the voltaic pile, chemist William Nicholson and surgeon Anthony Carlisle build the first English version of the device and discover that the current it produces can split water into two gases, hydrogen and oxygen.

Dry cell

Johann Wilhelm Ritter, a German physicist, invents the dry voltaic cell, soon followed by an electric storage battery (1803).


Luigi Valentino, a student of Alessandro Volta, first utilizes the voltaic pile for electroplating.

Linking electricity and magnetism

In Italy Gian Domenico Romagnosi discovers a link between electricity and magnetism when he observes that a voltaic pile deflects a magnetic needle. An account of his discovery appears in an Italian newspaper but passes unnoticed in most of the scientific community.

Breaking compounds

DavyEnglish chemist Humphry Davy contends in a lecture that electrolysis can be used to break down all compounds into their elements and subsequently uses the process to isolate sodium, potassium and the alkaline-earth metals.

Carbon arc light

Humphry Davy demonstrates the electric carbon arc light for members of the Royal Institution of London, a form of lighting that would not become practical for general use until more than half a century later.

Equation of electric potential

French scientist Siméon-Denis Poisson publishes his equation for electric potential, which is a correction of an earlier equation developed by his compatriot Pierre-Simon LaPlace and delineates the relationship between charge distribution and potential.
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