Skip to Main Content
Continuous discharges could only be obtained after enduring energy sources became available, namely in the form of a battery of electrochemical cells, invented by Volta in late 1799. Humphry Davy is often credited with the discovery of the arc discharge, which later led to the development of the carbon arc lamp. Indeed, as early as 1800, he obtained short pulsed arcs with his Voltaic pile. Independently, and earlier than Davy in the sense of continuous discharges, the Russian Vasilii Petrov of St. Petersburg made carbon arcs in 1802. Petrov used a pile of 4200 electrochemical cells to drive what was the most powerful discharge at that time. Petrov's publication of 1803 appeared only in Russian, and his work was ignored and forgotten for over a century. Davy pursued highly successful electrochemical experiments and was unaware of Petrov's work. He increased the size of his battery in several steps, which led to increasingly powerful discharges, most likely an undesired side effect. After 1808, using the new battery of the Royal Institution, Davy demonstrated continuous arc discharges. The exact dates and circumstances of early arc demonstrations around 1810 are still the subject of research, but later arc experiments such as those at the London Institution of 1821 are well documented. While Petrov could claim priority for continuous carbon arcs, it was Davy who made a lasting impact on further development.