Alessandro Volta, an Italian physicist, born in Como, Feb. 18, 1745, died there, April 5, 1827. He belonged to a noble family, and early studied electrical phenomena. In 1774 he became rector of the gymnasium and professor of physics in Como, and a few years later was transferred to the university of Pavia. In 1775 he constructed the electrophorus, consisting of two circular plates of metal having between them a plate of resin; and to improve it, he invented in 1782 the electrical condenser, by which small charges of electricity were accumulated until they reached a considerable amount. In the course of his investigations he constructed the electrical pistol, the eudiometer for testing the amount of oxygen in the air, and the lamp with inflammable air. But his reputation rests upon his discovery in 1799 of the instrument now known as the voltaic pile. (See Animal Electricity, and Galvanism.) In 1782 Volta travelled in Germany, Holland, England, and France, and he is said to have introduced from Savoy into Lombardy the culture of the potato. In 1796 he was one of the deputies sent by the citizens of Pavia to solicit the protection of Bonaparte, who treated him with the highest honor, and when first consul invited him to Paris to make experiments with his pile.
In 1802 he was chosen a member of the French institute, was afterward delegate of the university of Pavia to the congress of Lyons, and was created by Napoleon count and senator of the kingdom of Italy. In 1804 he resigned his professorship and retired to Como, and in 1815 received from the emperor Francis the appointment of director of the philosophical faculty in the university of Pavia. Antinori superintended an edition of his works (5 vols., Florence, 1826). - See Mocchetti, Vita del conte Volta (Como, 1838).