Battery, known as Bunsen cell

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made in England

Postcard of Battery, known as Bunsen cell.
© National Museums Scotland

Battery, known as Bunsen cell

The Bunsen cell was the first battery to use a carbon electrode. It was invented in 1843 by Robert Bunsen (1811-1899). This example was made in England in the 19th century.

The battery has a positive pole made of carbon and a negative pole made of zinc. The cleft cylindrical zinc plate is immersed in dilute sulphuric acid, within which is the porous cylinder filled with strong nitric acid; and within this is a rectangular prism of very dense charcoal, or carbon, which forms the second electrode. (There are no acids in this cell now).

Current electricity is produced when two metals are combined with moisture. Many attempts were made during the 19th century to produce an electric battery that was compact, durable and safe.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-190-004-730-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0098: National Museums Scotland
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1925.77
Date: 19th century
Material: Zinc, carbon / glass pot
Dimensions: 5.50" H x 3.50" D
What: Cell, Bunsen
Subject: 8. ELECTRICAL & ELECTRONIC ENGINEERING, Galvanic (Departmental Classification)
22. PHYSICS, Magnetism and Electricity (Departmental Classification)
Who: Bunsen (Eponym)
Where: England
Description: Bunsen cell, unsigned, English, 19th century
  • A. P. Deschanel, Elementary Treatise on Natural Philosophy, London 1872, pp 650-1 
  • For an overview of current electricity, see G.L'E. Turner, Nineteenth Century Scientific Instruments. London, 1983, esp. ch. 11, 'Electricity', pp 198-202 
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