Per Dictionary of Construction, a battery limit

.. comprises one or more geographic boundaries, imaginary or real, enclosing a plant or unit being engineered and/or erected, established for the purpose of providing a means of specifically identifying certain portions of the plant, related groups of equipment, or associated facilities.

I've been translating a text concerning the construction of a new urea facility, and this term got me curious. Actually the terms used in the text were the derived abbreviations ISBL/OSBL (inside and outside battery limits).

What is the meaning, or better, the origin, of "battery" here?

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    Things (implements, devices, machines, weapons, examinations, tests) of a similar nature arranged together. It goes back to metalware produced by hammering/beating.
    – TimR
    May 18, 2016 at 12:17
  • @TRomano - I see. So even while the facility described in my document is very far from being a homogenous collection of things - there are quite different units there, and a railway line to boot - the name 'battery' still applies. It would be great to see an answer with reference to the "hammering\beating" origin of the term. May 18, 2016 at 12:23
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    A factory may have many different kinds of equipment, but they are united by a common purpose of production. I would not consider the railway line used to ship the finished product part of the battery of machines used to produce it. But to the extent that battery has been extended to mean "section of the plant devoted to a particular purpose", then the railway would be located in that battery.
    – TimR
    May 18, 2016 at 12:28
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    here is the etymological trail: battery (beating) -> battery (bombardment) -> battery (a group of guns in one place) -> battery (a group of electrical cells in one place) -> battery (a group of pieces of equipment with similar function in the same place). english.stackexchange.com/questions/6481/…
    – JavaLatte
    May 18, 2016 at 13:18
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    My father used to object (semi-humorously) to referring to everyday 1.5V cells as "batteries": he said that they were cells, and you only got a battery if you had a row of them (as in a car battery). This was, of course, an example of the etymological fallacy, though I didn't know that term at the time.
    – Colin Fine
    May 18, 2016 at 15:14

2 Answers 2


As I detest leaving questions here in unanswered when they have actual answers, allow me to condense the comments and external links.

We'll begin with the definition from your excerpt, with the expanded definition of battery in italics for readability, and bold italic for the corresponding alterations it makes to the content of the definition.

Inside the limits of the series or large group of related geographical boundaries (which enclose a plant or unit being erected), established for the purpose of providing a means of specifically identifying certain portions of the plant...

Though Ben Franklin was thinking of the same thing when he used the word battery to describe his invention that used a series of electrical capacitors to store and deliver a useful electrical charge, that's more of an aside.

These both point toward an earlier military definition:

A series (of two or more) pieces of artillery used for combined action.

Example of Gun Batteries

The idea here being that as the number of guns pointed at a given target increases, the more devastating a strike from those guns will be. One gun makes a hole in a wall, two guns make a bigger hole or penetrates further, and so on until you run out of space to place more guns (or patience, or overload the weight bearing capacity of whatever you're putting them on, the list goes on).

From here, we jump from English to French, who used the word batterie to describe (I'm paraphrasing here for simplicity's sake)...

Bombardment (raining of heavy blows down upon) of a target, or the weapons used to do this with.

And this evolved from use of their original use of the word baterie to describe...

The act of beating; thrashing; assault.

Which, consequently, the word battery also means in contemporary English, though the legal term is more restrictive (and beyond the scope of this answer).

Compiled from the comments of JavaLatte, TRomano, CowperKettle & Sina, and the sources they provided.

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    While the enemies of the Emperor still draw breath, there can be no peace.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 8, 2016 at 22:40

The "Battery" in the term "Battery Limits" is an artillery battery. Picture a large fortified position like a fort, harbor and city with a number of artillery batteries providing overlapping coverage. The military engineers would prepare a drawing showing the coverage of each battery based on the range of the guns and angles they could cover. This drawing was labelled "Battery Limits" and one of its many uses was to ensure that artillery officers knew exactly what area they were responsible for covering, especially in areas where coverage overlapped and one officer might make the mistake of assuming it was covered by another battery.

As engineering moved from a strictly military endeavor, the term moved into other disciplines.

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