Early studies of electricity mostly involved static electricity. For example in 1791 Luigi Galvani demonstrated that a dissected frog’s leg could be made to twitch if a nerve ending in the leg was put in contact with a conducting metal. He coined the term “animal electricity” to explain this phenomenon. From these and other early studies it was believed that electricity was produced by living things. However in 1799, Alessandro Volta produced the first chemical battery thus demonstrating that electricity can be produced by a non-biological reaction. Volta’s initial battery was latter termed a Voltaic Pile and consisted of copper and. zinc wafers separated by felt or paper that had been soaked in salt water.

The basic design of the Voltaic Pile is similar to how our AA and AAA batteries are constructed to this day.

Napoleon Bonaparte very much admired Volta’s work and the two of them became friends. You can see Napoleon’s influence on Volta in this portrait of Volta’s where Volta has imitated Napoleon’s classic pose with one hand inserted into his jacket.

The SI unit of electric potential (The Volt) is named in honor of Alessandro Volta.