From Alchemy to Chemistry:
Five Hundred Years of Rare and Interesting Books

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Rare Book Room Exhibit


VOLTA, ALESSANDRO (1745 - 1827) [CONFIGLIACHI, PIETRO (1777 - 1844)]. L'identitÓ del Fluido Elettrico. 1814.

Alessandro Volta is best known for his invention of the "Voltaic pile," which was the first electrical battery. The definitive pile, consisting of pairs of silver and zinc disks separated by pieces of moist cardboard, was first made public by Volta in 1800. His discovery was prompted when, in 1791, Luigi Galvani, professor of anatomy at the University of Bologna, published his now famous study of the excitation of disembodied frog legs when touched by metals. He explained the jerking as the direct result of the discharge of a "animal electricity" which accumulated in the muscle. When Volta learned of Galvani's experiments he dismissed them as "unbelievable" and "miraculous." By November 1792, after countless experiments, Volta had confirmed the observation, but concluded that all galvanic excitations arose from external electrical stimulation. Volta suggested that the electricity came not from animal power but from the contact between the metal and unobserved impurities in it. For the next ten years, Volta and the Galvanists fought a spirited battle, a battle which Volta eventually won. His last memoir on the subject, a lengthy review of his reasons for equating galvanic and common electricity, was submitted under the name of a student in a prize competition announced in 1805 by the SocietÓ Italiana delle Scienze as follows: "Explain with clarity and dignity, and without offending anyone, the question of galvanism disputed by our worthy members Giovanni Aldini and Alessandro Volta." Volta's memoir was printed in 1814 by his student and successor Pietro Configliachi. The copy of L'identitÓ del Fluido Elettrico on display was presented by Configliachi to Humphry Davy, who called the Voltaic battery "an alarm-bell to experimenters in every part of Europe."

DSB; Partington IV, pp5-17.


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