Find out about battery development from the 1700s to today, and who is behind the inventions.
Inventions are well documented and credit goes to the dignified inventors. Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) invented the Franklin stove, bifocal eyeglasses and the lightning rod. He was unequaled in American history as an inventor until Thomas Edison emerged.
Edison was a good businessman who may have taken credit for earlier discoveries others had made. Contrary to popular belief, Edison did not invent the light bulb; he improved on a 50-year-old idea by using a small, carbonized filament lit up in a better vacuum. In the end, it was Edison who gained financial reward by making the concept commercially viable.
The phonograph is another invention for which Edison is credited, rightly or wrongly. The cylinder phonograph introduced in 1877 recorded and played back sound. He envisioned this invention becoming a business machine, eventually eliminating the written letter, but the public wanted to play music. Making multiple copies for sale from a cylinder posed a problem as a tenor needed to sing into 10 flaring horns to produce simultaneous recording.
It was Emile Berliner who initiated the transition from cylinders to discs to enable mass production — and the gramophone was born. Master recordings were made on zinc plates that were electroplated, and a negative image was prepared to stamp multiple discs. Berliner records were 7 inches (177mm) in diameter and played for 2 minutes per side, running at 60–70 rpm.
The gramophones of 1896 were made by Philadelphia machinist Eldridge Johnson, who added a spring motor to drive the previously hand-rotated turntable. Berliner discs produced a louder sound than the Edison cylinders and the popularity of the gramophone grew. Berliner transferred his patents to Johnson, and the Victor Talking Machine Company was formed, also known as His Master’s Voice. Much to Edison’s surprise and annoyance, gramophone records became a hot consumer item as folks wanted to “own” recorded music from famous artists such as tenor Caruso. (Phonograph refers to “word”; gramophone is a trademark for a record player.)
Thomas Edison may be the best remembered inventor in the USA, but he lost out to Tesla’s AC over DC as the electric power source, the Berliner gramophone disc over the cylindrical recording system, and lead acid over his much promoted nickel-iron battery for the electric vehicle. Nevertheless, Edison grew wealthy and lived in a mansion while Tesla struggled financially. None of the companies that Tesla started survived, while Edison’s businesses amalgamated into the mighty General Electric in 1892. Edison was also connected with other well-known people in the industry, such as George Eastman, the founder of Kodak. This may be the reason for the many high-quality photos of these two fine gentlemen.
Countries often credit their own citizens for having made important inventions, whether deserved or not. When visiting museums in Europe, the USA and Japan, one sees such bestowment. The work to develop the car, x-ray machines, telephones, broadcast radio, TV and computers might have been done in parallel, not knowing of others’ advancements at that time, and the rightful inventor is often not clearly known or identified.
Similar uncertainties exist with the invention of new battery systems, and we give respect to research teams and organizations rather than individuals. Table 1 summarizes battery advancements and lists inventors when available.
|1600||William Gilbert (UK)||Establishment of electrochemistry study|
|1745||Ewald Georg von Kleist (NL)||Invention of Leyden jar. Stores static electricity|
|1791||Luigi Galvani (Italy)||Discovery of “animal electricity”|
|1800||Alessandro Volta (Italy)||Invention of the voltaic cell (zinc, copper disks)|
|1802||William Cruickshank (UK)||First electric battery capable of mass production|
|1820||André-Marie Ampère (France)||Electricity through magnetism|
|1833||Michael Faraday (UK)||Announcement of Faraday’s law|
|1836||John F. Daniell (UK)||Invention of the Daniell cell|
|1839||William Robert Grove (UK)||Invention of the fuel cell (H2/O2)|
|1859||Gaston Planté (France)||Invention of the lead acid battery|
|1868||Georges Leclanché (France)||Invention of the Leclanché cell (carbon-zinc)|
|1881||Camile Alphonse Faure (France)||Invention of lead grid lattice (current system)|
|1899||Waldemar Jungner (Sweden)||Invention of the nickel-cadmium battery|
|1901||Thomas A. Edison (USA)||Invention of the nickel-iron battery|
|1932||Schlecht & Ackermann (Germany)||Invention of the sintered pole plate|
|1947||Georg Neumann (Germany)||Successfully sealing the nickel-cadmium battery|
|1949||Lewis Urry, Eveready Battery||Invention of the alkaline-manganese battery|
|1970s||Group effort||Development of valve-regulated lead acid battery|
|1990||Group effort||Commercialization of nickel-metal-hydride battery|
|1991||Sony (Japan)||Commercialization of lithium-ion battery|
|1994||Bellcore (USA)||Commercialization of lithium-ion polymer|
|1995||Group effort||Introduction of pouch cell using Li-polymer|
|1995||Duracell and Intel||Proposal of industry standard for SMBus|
|1996||Moli Energy (Canada)||Introduction of Li-ion with manganese cathode|
|1996||University of Texas (USA)||Identification of Li-phosphate (LiFePO4)|
|2002||University of Montreal, Quebec Hydro, MIT, others||Improvement of Li-phosphate, nanotechnology, commercialization|
|2002||Group effort||Various patents filed on nanomaterials for batteries|
Table 1: History of modern battery development. No new major battery system has entered the commercial market since the invention of Li-phosphate in 1996. Impressive progress was made from 1990 to 2002.
Last updated 2017-03-28
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