Recently, Tesla introduced a new product called the Powerwall. It is basically a battery for your house. Critics see it as another expensive toy for green fanatics. Enthusiasts say it will be game changing. We’re not here to be on either side of an argument, but to learn more about what exactly a battery is and how it has evolved.

The word it self has evolved over time as can be seen from its definition on the Online Etymology Dictionary:

1530s, “action of battering,” from Middle French batterie, from Old French baterie (12c.) “beating, thrashing, assault,” from batre “beat,” from Latin battuere “beat” (see batter(v.)).

Meaning shifted in Middle French from “bombardment” (“heavy blows” upon city walls or fortresses) to “unit of artillery” (a sense recorded in English from 1550s). Extension to “electrical cell” (1748, first used by Ben Franklin) is perhaps from the artillery sense via notion of “discharges” of electricity. In Middle English, bateri meant only “forged metal ware.” In obsolete baseball jargon battery was the word for “pitcher and catcher” considered as a unit (1867, originally only the pitcher).

To arrive at our current common usage of the word, we see that the shift began in the 1550s with reference to artillery, and coming full circle in 1748 through Franklin’s use, which was taken to analogize the discharge of electricity to the discharge of a gun (be it a large gun). In essence, where artillery ammunition is a store of energy used in a semi-controlled explosion to propel a projectile, the electric battery is a store of energy to be released in a controlled manner to perform work. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a battery as “a device that is placed inside a machine (such as a clock, toy, or car) to supply it with electricity.” In the clock, the work is moving the hands (or illuminating a display). In the car, the work is propelling the vehicle.

Overall, from the inception of the word in it’s earliest form, as literally beating something, to its current usage, as an electricity storage device, the word seems to have always denoted a conversion of potential energy to kinetic energy. To get to this point of simply understanding the history of the word, we feel that we’ve learned enough to leave the evolution of the electrical battery to a separate post (or posts). Look for these in the future. After all, us outdoor gear junkies must have batteries for our flashlights and headlamps!


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