The first battery was made in about 1800 by Count Alessandro Volta, an Italian scientist. It consisted of a stack of alternating zinc and silver discs with a brine-soaked separating material after every second disc. The voltaic pile, as the battery came to be known, has the disadvantage that its voltage quickly drops because of waste products that accumulate near the discs during discharge.

A cell that overcame this problem was developed by an English scientist, John F. Daniell, in 1836. An improved Daniell cell was a reliable source of electrical energy for telegraphy through the end of the 19th century.

The first storage battery was built by Gaston Plant in 1859. The battery, called an accumulator, used lead plates immersed in a solution of sulfuric acid, basically the same system as that used in the lead-acid batteries of today. Another storage battery system, using plates of iron and nickel in an alkaline solution, was invented by Thomas A. Edison in 1901.

The carbon-zinc cell was developed by Georges Leclanche, a French chemist, in the late 1860's. The original cell was a wet cell—one that used a free-flowing electrolytic solution. The carbon-zinc dry cell, in which the electrolytic solution is confined to a semisolid material, was developed in the 1880's.

In the mid-1900's, several types of cells were developed and improved. The mercury cell was developed during World War II. In 1954 the first practical solar battery was demonstrated. The first nuclear batteries were made in the late 1950's.

During the 1970's, a growing number of battery-powered electronic items for consumer use stimulated the production of numerous types of cells in many shapes and sizes. By the early 1980's lithium cells had been developed for consumer use.