Volta column battery

Inventor: Alessandro Volta, b.1745 – d.1827

Date: 3rd quarter 18th century


Dating from the years 1860s-1870s, this instrument was intended for teaching. It consists of pairs of zinc and copper disks; the pairs are separated by cloth disks soaked in an acid solution, according to the description of Volta battery given in all nineteenth-century text-books.  The pile of disks is held within four small wood columns, fixed on a circular basis. On the top of the device is a wooden tap. A brass sphere is mounted on a rod which passes through the tap and terminates in a disc. It was possible to make the column of discs compact by screwing the rod in the tap.

Volta’s column batteries were soon left aside due to the quick weakening of the produced current, which was attributed not only to polarization phenomena, but also to the fact that the metal discs, by pressing the paper discs, expelled the salty or acid solution. These batteries remained in use for didactics during the nineteenth century.

Materials and techniques: wood/brass/copper/zinc/paper

Dimensions: height 26 cm, diameter 10 cm

Keywords: electricity, electromagnetism , electrodynamics

University of Padua, Museum of the History of Physics

Cat. Number: 362


  • "Bagliori nel vuoto. Dall'uovo elettrico ai raggi X: electricity e pneumatica dal Seicento ad oggi", Padua, Botanical garden, 1 February-30 June 2004


  • Pierre Adolphe Daguin, Traité élémentaire de physique, 3 vols., 2nd ed. Paris, 1861
  • Adolphe Ganot, Traité élémentaire de physique expérimentale et appliquée et de météorologie, 14 ed., Paris, 1870
  • Jules Jamin, Cours de physique de l’Ecole Polytechnique, 3 vols., Paris, 1858-1866
  • Jules Jamin e M. Bouty, Cours de physique de l’Ecole Polytechnique, 4 vols., Paris, 1878-1883