The voltaic pile was invented by Italian chemist Alessandro Volta to provide a continuous electrical current to a circuit. It is widely hailed as the first battery invented and was widely used throughout the 19th century for industrial purposes until it was overtaken by the dynamo in the 1870s.
The voltaic pile battery consisted of pairs of alternating copper or silver and zinc disks that were separated by brine-soaked cloth or cardboard as this was found to increase the electromotive force. The bottom and top contacts were connected by a wire through which an electric current could flow.
A voltaic battery can be recreated in the form of a penny battery whereby zinc and copper coins can be stacked upon each other, separated by sheets of electrolyte-soaked paper. The chemical reaction between the contrasting metals and the soaked paper is what creates the electrical charge so as it isn’t a closed system and hydrogen can escape into the air, a penny battery will typically last up to 6 hours.
Equally, the voltaic pile battery had similar shortcomings and its life was limited by the number of stacked cells that were possible without squeezing the brine out of the system.