BU-102: Early Innovators

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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Comments (29)

On June 23, 2011 at 3:35am
viswanathan sankaran wrote:

You have commented that
“No new major battery system has entered the commercial market since the invention of Li-phosphate in 1996”
What about the fuel cells and Vanadium Redox Flow batteries which are already commercialized ? There is no mention about the high temperature molten electrolyte sodium cell either?

On August 4, 2011 at 11:46pm
songfang wrote:

Really interesting !I learned a lot from it Thanks!

On November 20, 2011 at 10:17am
Reece wrote:

Thanks for the help. This helped me with my science fair

On June 5, 2012 at 1:36pm
Les wrote:

I work for an industrial supply company as a technical product support specialist. Often I receive many phone calls asking about batteries and their various types. Your site is extremely thorough. I appreciate the work you’ve done. Thank you! It will be of tremendous help to me and my peers.

On May 18, 2013 at 3:17pm
Mastero101 wrote:

Very interesting know about the history of the batteries, but us miss one thing who invent the Li-ion, Li-Po batteries. l want to know who develope the batteries that we use every day.

On June 22, 2013 at 7:17am
JK DHANDE wrote:

I wish to know all about battery and battery technology.

On January 8, 2014 at 3:35am
Pradeep Chandra Pant wrote:

Kindly enlighten us about Flow Battery, particularly about its charge discharge characteristics, energy density and cycle life.

On January 15, 2014 at 7:25pm
ibrahim wrote:

I do no y scientists came and y they invented…..........

On January 15, 2014 at 7:33pm
shabih wrote:

I wish to know about battery technology

On January 15, 2014 at 7:40pm
Kari kada bhai wrote:

I wish to know why battery is invented

On June 10, 2014 at 11:21pm
stephen wrote:

Great insight about battery development .
IT Support Braeside

On August 15, 2014 at 1:06am
Raviraj wrote:

I wants to be expert in Battery methodology

On September 8, 2014 at 7:14pm
marshall wrote:

Does the laptop battery get affected by A.C. supply? Does the life of the battery gets affected if run our laptop continuously on A.C. power? All the laptops run on A.C. power when getting fully charged up and still connected to supply mains. Thank you

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On September 8, 2014 at 10:43pm
Viswanathan wrote:

The A.C.Supply (110-230 V AC) is converted into DC and then fed into the battery for charging, with charging voltage regulation. So there is no need to worry. Once the battery reaches the full-charge level, almost no charging current flows, even though A.C.Power supply will be “on”, as the charging is virtually stopped by the electronic control circuit built inside the Laptop battery.
However, in order to prevent overcharging and heat generation inside the battery, it is best to disconnect the A.C. Supply after battery is fully charged.
To know the charge level of the lap top battery, you may install a battery charge indicator software, which will indicate the percentage of charge level in the laptop battery. You may keep operating the laptop only with battery (without A.C.Supply) till the battery level drops down to say 70-75% level. At this stage we may plug in the A.C. Supply adapter, which will start charging the battery. In other words, it is best to use the lap top battery between 75 to 98% level. This will give a longer life to the battery.

On September 9, 2014 at 3:38am
Ravi wrote:

I wants to expert in Battery methodology so any one can give suggetions?????

On September 17, 2014 at 8:24am
Chris Deschamps wrote:

Great website-thanks.  I am looking for a motion charger solution for a sensor data logger on an Arduino.  I was thinking of using an LVDT sort of device but doughnut shaped and using an iron ball bearing as the core.  Any thoughts?

On December 24, 2014 at 11:57pm
vivek patel wrote:

Is carbon nanotubes being commercially used as anode and cathode material for battery application?

On July 8, 2015 at 7:02am
palumberi francesco wrote:

do you advice me about books of history’s electrical battery?

On August 25, 2015 at 4:50am
rajr wrote:

Recently MIT and some other lab invented ultrafast Al-ion battery.It is fast(charge with in 1minute),inexpensive and environment friendly.
I don’t see any article on Al-ion battery, please update it.

On November 15, 2015 at 8:32am
Anji Reddy wrote:

Can some one help me?
Why battery cell can produce 2V only why not 3v or 4v?

On February 2, 2016 at 2:37am
prfrew wrote:

it is a very nice information

On October 10, 2016 at 8:27am
Battery Master wrote:

I think that nowadays exists much better batteries than currently are on the market, but major players in a battery industry won’t release or allow to get that on the market.

On December 8, 2016 at 3:54pm
Arpit Joshi wrote:

It is surprising to see that history is riddled with so many unknowns and yet there were no inventions in Eastern world what so ever.

On May 22, 2017 at 9:53pm
Murali Ande wrote:

Battery for Mobile phones with connected devices on Internet of Things/ IOT

With IOT devices connecting number of sensors to the mobile phone, one point that is limiting its usage is the battery.  The connected devices consume significant amount of battery power when the mobile is kept switched on and enabled with GPS, etc. 

This is battery related problem. We should find batteries for mobile phone that gives the power at least for 2 or 3 days even if the sensors are kept on continuously.

On June 23, 2017 at 4:36am
Randy Grenier wrote:

I am reviewing life cycles of forklift 36V lead-acid batteries.  From baseline data to my first quarterly readings of specific gravity and voltage I found that some of the batteries had an increase in specific gravity and a decrease in voltage.  Why is it that when the specific gravity goes up that the voltage doesn’t go up?

On June 29, 2017 at 10:24am
Nikolaus wrote:

Thanks for the interesting reading on these pages. I think Hans Christian Oersted (https://www.famousscientists.org/hans-christian-oersted/) a deserves mention grin

On July 23, 2017 at 2:46pm
hellokitty wrote:

This article does Tesla justice, it’s very satisfying to read, thanks.

On December 23, 2017 at 7:07am
Ravi Aluganti wrote:

This lesson is interesting but relatively shorter. I would like to get clarity on terms such as volt, watt, amp, etc., so that it helps my further reading.

On May 19, 2018 at 5:40am
Peter van Haeringen wrote:

I ‘ve been looking for a site like this for a long time thx and keep up the good work