Back to the Days of Volta
Volta, inventor of the first electric battery, after whom the
standard International unit of electrical pressure, the volt - is
named, was one of the early, most brilliant and indefatigable
workers in the realm of pure electrical science. He was born in
Como, Italy, Feb. 17, 1745, in a house which had been the homestead
of the Volta family for over 300 years. Paradoxical as it may seem,
true genius is often linked with less brilliant traits of
character, and as a child we are told that Alessandro Volta was
very backward. Even to the point that he could only speak one word
"No," when he had reached his fourth birthday.
But, like many other great scholars of the world, he suddenly
developed a great affinity for philosophy and became an earnest
student of scientific subjects, especially the natural wonders of
nature, particularly electricity. When he was 17 years old he had
won prizes in philosophy and at 18, the famous Abbe Nolet. strongly
imprest with the youth's superior and divining knowledge, had him
write essays on electricity for the great men of the day, as people
in general knew very little about this mysterious force at that
The first formal scientific papers of Volta were issued in his 24th
year and fourteen years later there appeared his electrophorus (see
illustration. Fig. 1.) followed by his electroscope. The
photographs here reproduced show the now historic apparatus built
and used by Volta in his laboratory.
Fig. 1 shows a variety of electro-static apparatus, including a
static electric charging device - the electrophorus, at extreme
left, and the detector of static charges - the electroscope at
extreme right. Both of these devices are still in use in electrical
laboratories where the elements of pure science are studied.
Besides, the electricians of today have found many practical
applications for the electroscope, never even dreamed of by the
illustrious Volta. One important commercial and highly important
application of the sensitive electroscope is in the measurement of
radio-activity. The Radium production companies employ this method
in testing their products. Fig. 1 also shows various plate
condensers, invented by Volta.
While professor of physics at Pavia, he conducted experiments which
led to the discovery- of the voltaic pile. One of the accompanying
illustrations. Fig. 4, shows one of the most remarkable historic
documents extant - the original letter, written in French, of
Alessandro Volta addrest to the Societe Royale de Londres
describing his new electric battery (Voltaic pile), consisting of
alternate zinc and copper discs separated by dampened blotter paper
This formed the basis of present - day electric batteries. There is
no doubt that modern electricity really starts with this famous
letter. For it was Volta's battery that produced the very first
electric galvanic mark.
It was Volta who led the first galvanic current thru a wire. And it
was his battery that produced for the first time useful dynamic
Volta was one of the most prolific inventors of all times. He
invented a greater amount of basic electric apparatus than any
other living scientist with the exception of Faraday. In Fig. 3, at
the left is shown a clever apparatus which when energized by static
electricity produces imitation hail. Fig. 3 (at right) shows his
apparatus for exploding a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen by means
of an electric spark.
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