A History of Science
Tome I
Tome II
Tome III Tome IV

Book 3, chapter VII
The modern development of electricity and magnetism
Storage batteries
When the discoveries of Faraday of electro-magnetic induction had made possible the means of easily generating electricity, the next natural step was to find a means of storing it or accumulating it. This, however, proved no easy matter, and as yet a practical storage or secondary battery that is neither too cumbersome, too fragile, nor too weak in its action has not been invented. If a satisfactory storage battery could be made, it is obvious that its revolutionary effects could scarcely be overestimated. In the single field of aeronautics, it would probably solve the question of aerial navigation. Little wonder, then, that inventors have sought so eagerly for the invention of satisfactory storage batteries. As early as 1803 Ritter had attempted to make such a secondary battery. In 1843 Grove also attempted it. But it was not until 1859, when Gaston Planche produced his invention, that anything like a reasonably satisfactory storage battery was made. Planche discovered that sheets of lead immersed in dilute sulphuric acid were very satisfactory for the production of polarization effects. He constructed a battery of sheets of lead immersed in sulphuric acid, and, after charging these for several hours from the cells of an ordinary Bunsen battery, was able to get currents of great strength and considerable duration. This battery, however, from its construction of lead, was necessarily heavy and cumbersome. Faure improved it somewhat by coating the lead plates with red-lead, thus increasing the capacity of the cell. Faure's invention gave a fresh impetus to inventors, and shortly after the market was filled with storage batteries of various kinds, most of them modifications of Planche's or Faure's. The ardor of enthusiastic inventors soon flagged, however, for all these storage batteries proved of little practical account in the end, as compared with other known methods of generating power.

Three methods of generating electricity are in general use: static or frictional electricity is generated by "plate" or "static" machines; galvanic, generated by batteries based on Volta's discovery; and induced, or faradic, generated either by chemical or mechanical action. There is still another kind, thermo-electricity, that may be generated in a most simple manner. In 1821 Seebecle, of Berlin, discovered that when a circuit was formed of two wires of different metals, if there be a difference in temperature at the juncture of these two metals an electrical current will be established. In this way heat may be transmitted directly into the energy of the current without the interposition of the steam-engine. Batteries constructed in this way are of low resistance, however, although by arranging several of them in "series," currents of considerable strength can be generated. As yet, however, they are of little practical importance.

About the middle of the century Clerk-Maxwell advanced the idea that light waves were really electro- magnetic waves. If this were true and light proved to be simply one form of electrical energy, then the same would be true of radiant heat. Maxwell advanced this theory, but failed to substantiate it by experimental confirmation. But Dr. Heinrich Hertz, a few years later, by a series of experiments, demonstrated the correctness of Maxwell's surmises. What are now called "Hertzian waves" are waves apparently identical with light waves, but of much lower pitch or period. In his experiments Hertz showed that, under proper conditions, electric sparks between polished balls were attended by ether waves of the same nature as those of light, but of a pitch of several millions of vibrations per second. These waves could be dealt with as if they were light waves - reflected, refracted, and polarized. These are the waves that are utilized in wireless telegraphy.





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© Serge Jodra, 2006. - Reproduction interdite.