Alessandro Volta (1745-1827)

Alessandro Volta invented the voltiac pile - the first battery.

Fototeca Storica Nazionale. / Contributor/Getty Images

In 1800, Alessandro Volta of Italy built the voltaic pile and discovered the first practical method of generating electricity. Count Volta also made discoveries in electrostatics, meteorology and pneumatics. His most famous invention, however, is the first battery.

Alessandro Volta - Background

Alessandro Volta was born in Como, Italy in 1745. In 1774, he was appointed as professor of physics at the Royal School in Como.

While at the Royal School, Alessandro Volta designed his first invention the electrophorus in 1774, a device that produced static electricity. For years at Como, he studied and experimented with atmospheric electricity by igniting static sparks. In 1779, Alessandro Volta was appointed professor of physics at the University of Pavia and it was while there that he invented his most famous invention, the voltaic pile.

Alessandro Volta - Voltaic Pile

Constructed of alternating discs of zinc and copper, with pieces of cardboard soaked in brine between the metals, the voltaic pile produced electrical current. The metallic conducting arc was used to carry the electricity over a greater distance. Alessandro Volta's voltaic pile was the first battery that produced a reliable, steady current of electricity.

Alessandro Volta - Luigi Galvani

One contemporary of Alessandro Volta was Luigi Galvani, in fact, it was Volta's disagreement with Galvani's theory of galvanic responses (animal tissue contained a form of electricity) that led Volta to build the voltaic pile to prove that electricity did not come from the animal tissue but was generated by the contact of different metals, brass and iron, in a moist environment.

Ironically, both scientists were right.

Named In Honor of Alessandro Volta

  1. Volt - The unit of electromotive force, or difference of potential, which will cause a current of one ampere to flow through a resistance of one ohm. Named for Italian physicist Alessandro Volta.
  2. Photovoltaic - Photovoltaic are systems that convert light energy into electricity. The term "photo" is a stem from the Greek "phos," which means "light." "Volt" is named for Alessandro Volta, a pioneer in the study of electricity.