Collections: Dawn of the Electrical Age (1600-1800)
In the 1770s, Alessandro Volta became interested in the
characteristics of swamp gases. In order to test flammability he
invented his cannon, also called a spark eudiometer. He
filled the cannon with methane gas or a mixture of hydrogen and
oxygen, placing a cork in the top to keep the gas from escaping. A
metal rod tipped with a brass ball was inserted at the bottom to
serve as a spark plug.
If the gas were flammable, and the proportions right, it would explode when sparked from a Leyden jar. Volta's early cannons reportedly were capable of sending a lead ball twenty feet, denting a board.
While they were sometimes fashioned as pistols, these devices were never intended as weapons, and were hardly as practical or effective as the gunpowder weapons which were common at the time. They did, however, make for impressive demonstrations, and were an important step toward to the invention of the internal combustion engine.
Shown: Early Volta Cannon. Inscription on base reads: "Pistola
du Volta 1787"
Italian, c. 1787