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The Invention of the Battery - 1800
Allessandro Volta (1745 - 1827)

Allessandro Volta
(1745 - 1827)

1792 - Memorie sull Elettricita Animale Inserite nel Giornale Fisico-Medico

First edition, rare offprint form, of this major work of Volta, in which he established that Galvani's 'animal electricity' was in fact the result of contact of two different metals in a conductive environment and that the muscle spasms observed by Galvani were the result of purely external electrical stimulation. Volta's 'brilliantly planned and executed experiments [detailed here]... step by step brought him to the invention of the [voltaic] pile' (DSB).' A collection of letters and articles relating to the controversy between Galvani and Volta over the nature of Galvani's discovery. Volta had been one of the first to take up Galvani's theory of animal electricity but he became skeptical as his own research progressed, finally concluding that all galvanic excitations were the result of external electrical stimulation produced by the contact of two dissimilar metals in a moist environment. He announced these conclusions in his "Memoria... sull' elettricitą animale..", giving rise to a dispute with Galvani's adherents that persisted for many years. This collection contains the three parts to Volta's "Memoria"... as well as letters from Volta and Galvani, and the Galvani-Carminati correspondence'

(Norman catalogue).See DSB XIV pp 69-82; Bakken p 47; Blake p 68; Fulton and Stanton 19; Norman 870 (this copy); Ronalds p 84; Wheeler Gift 577; NUC: CtY-M

1796 - Lettera I E II (Lettera III) Al Sig. Ab. Anton. Maria Vassalli Sull'Elettricitą Animale
Three letters on animal electricity written by Volta to Vassalli during the debate over galvanic current. Among the experiments described is the following: Four insulated individuals form a human chain, the first placing his finger on the tip of the second's tongue, the second likewise touching the uncovered eyeball of the third, and the third and fourth holding between them in their wet hands a freshly skinned and gutted frog. The first individual holds in his wet hand a sheet of zinc, the last a sheet of silver. When the metal sheets make contact, the electrical circuit is completed; the second individual immediately detects an acid taste on the tip of his tongue, a flash of light appears in the eye of the third individual and the leg of the frog convulses violently. In the words of Volta, "ecco dunque il fluido elettrico"!

The Annali di Chimica appeared from 1790 to 1805, the Giornale Fisico Medico ran from 1792 to 1796. The editor, Luigi Brugnatelli (1761-1818), a colleague of Volta accompanied him on his triumphant visit to Paris in 1801.


1800 - On the Electricity Excited by the Mere Contact of Conducting Substances of Different Kinds.

First edition of this paper, in French, sent by Volta to his friend Cavallo in London for communication to the Royal Society. In it, Volta describes the pile of alternating dissimilar metals (silver and zinc) which, when moist, generated the flow of constant electrical current electricity. With this new force, water was decomposed, metal was electro-deposited, the electro- magnet was created and the electrical age was begun.


Plate from Volta's landmark book:
On the Electricity Excited by the Mere Contact of Conducting Substances of Different Kinds.

Volta presenting his "Voltaic Pile" to Napoleon
Painting by Giuseppe Bertini




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