Batteries provided the main source of electricity before the development of electric generators and electrical gridsaround the end of the 19th century. Successive improvements in battery technology facilitated major electrical advances, from early scientific studies to the rise of telegraphs and telephones, eventually leading to portable computersmobile phoneselectric cars, and many other electrical devices.

Carbon Zinc Battery ContructionScientists and engineers developed several commercially important types of battery. “Wet cells” were open containers that held liquid electrolyte and metallic electrodes. When the electrodes were completely consumed, the wet cell was renewed by replacing the electrodes and electrolyte. Open containers are unsuitable for mobile or portable use. Wet cells were used commercially in the telegraph and telephone systems. Early electric cars used semi-sealed wet cells.

Alkaline Battery Contruction

One important classification for batteries is by their life cycle. “Primary” batteries can produce current as soon as assembled, but once the active elements are consumed, they cannot be electrically recharged. The development of the lead-acid battery and subsequent “secondary” or “rechargeable” types allowed energy to be restored to the cell, extending the life of permanently assembled cells. The introduction of nickel and lithium based batteries in the latter 20th century made the development of innumerable portable electronic devices feasible, from powerful flashlights to mobile phones. Very large stationary batteries find some applications in grid energy storage, helping to stabilize electric power distribution networks.