• History of Chemistry
  • IYPT Essays and papers for The International Year of the Periodic Table

Essays and Papers Relating to the History of Chemistry

This section on History of Chemistry and Science currently consists of five parts.

Parts 1 and 2 are essays and texts of historical interest. Part 2 is accessed from the bottom of this page

Part 3 consists of photos and PowerPoint presentations of science related travels

Part 4 is a collection of PowerPoint presentations for use in teaching

Part 5 is some selected pictures of chemical art from my personal collection

Click on one of the titles below to read an essay on the history of chemistry or to be directed to the text of an original paper in the history of chemistry.

Some of the following links are to papers or web sites compiled by Carmen Giunta in the Department of Chemistry at LeMoyne College.

Another source of historical materials can be found in American Heritage's Invention & Technology which was published 1985-2011. This magazine, now ressurected as an online magazine, contained a range of science articles. The entire 26 years of archives and the new online issues are available: Invention & Technology

These are PDF files and require Acrobat Reader

An Illustrated History of Alchemy and Chemistry from ancient times to 1800.

This historical review focuses on discovery of elements, chemical processes, apparatus, and the people who discovered or developed them.

Want to try a modern version of an alchemical experiment? An Experiment in Alchemy: Copper to Silver to Gold with an explanation of the process. (Note: This is designed as a laboratory procedure.)

The Splendor Solis A translation of the 1582 alchemical manuscript attributed to Solomon Trismosin with color photographs of 22 plates, explanation of the pictures, Trismosin's Alchemical Wanderings, Trismosin's Alchemical Process, and explanatory notes.

Element Symbols A historical approach to modern element symbols

Robert Boyle: Excerpts from The Sceptical Chymist (1661)

Although Boyle was successful in showing the four element theory (Earth, Air, Fire, and Water) and the Tria Prima theory (salt, sulfur, and mercury) could not explain chemistry as it was known at the time, he was unable to provide specific examples of elements in our modern sense as the technology of the day had not progressed to the point of isolating and identifying elements.

Antoine Lavoisier: Preface to Elements of Chemistry (1789); discusses chemical nomenclature and the definition of element

Jöns Jacob Berzelius on chemical symbols and formulas (1814)

Metric System The SI system with a short history of measurement

Temperature Temperature measurement with a short historical background

Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit: 1724 paper observing several liquids to boil at constant temperatures

William Thomson (Baron Kelvin of Largs): some thoughts on an absolute thermodynamic scale of temperature (1848)

The Periodic Table

Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner: 1829 paper on triads of analogous elements and their classification

J. A. R. Newlands, The Periodic Law This is the complete text of Newlands' book, published in London in 1884, containing all of his published papers on the Law of Octaves, the Periodic Law, and relations between the atomic weights, published in 1863 through 1878. In 1887, Newlands received the Davy Medal from the Royal Society in recognition of his contribution to the periodic table.

J. A. R. Newlands, On The Law of Octaves, published in Chemical News, vol. xii, p. 83, Aug, 1865 and reprinted from page 14 of The Preiodic Law.

Dimitri Mendeleev generally gets major credit for his discovery of the Periodic table.

Mendeleev's 1869 paper on the Relationship of the Properties of the Elements to Their Atomic Weights

Excerpt from Mendeleev's 1871 paper on periodicity of the elements. This focuses on the properties of the predicted element eka-boron, now known as scandium.

Mendeleev delivered the Faraday lecture on the Periodic Law in 1889. This is the text of that lecture.

Was Mendeleev influenced by music in developing his periodic arrangement? Music of New Spheres by Daniel Luzon Morris, from Chemistry, 42, No. 11, pp 10-12, December 1969

View a PDF of a PowerPoint I made showing photographs of The Study and Laboratory of Dmetri Mendeleev from my visit to the St. Petersburg State University in 2000.

View a mosaic of Dmetri Mendeleev constructed from photographs taken at his study and laboratory at the St. Petersburg State University.

Julius Lothar Meyer, co-discoverer of the Periodic Table

From his 1870 paper: A table of most of the known elements arranged to show family resemblances and a figure showing atomic volumes varying periodically.

Excerpts from Meyer's 1870 paper.

Lewis Reeve Gibbes, worked out a version of the periodic table between 1870 and 1874. Although he gets no credit for discovery of the periodic table, his story illustrates how multiple individuals can make discoveries when there is sufficient information available to them.

Glenn T. Seaborg, Extending the Periodic Table

Prospects for Further Considerable Extension of the Periodic Table, Journal of Chemical Education, 46, Number 10, October 1969, p626

Formula Writing A tutorial writing chemical formulas and nomenclature of inorganic compounds

Louis Bernard Guyton de Morveau, Antoine Lavoisier, Claude-Louis Bertholet, and Antoine de Fourcroy: "A Dictionary of the New Chymical Nomenclature" from Method of Chymical Nomenclature (1787)

Writing Chemical Equations A tutorial on writing and balancing chemical equations

Torbern Bergman, in his book Dissertation on Elective Attractions (1775), summarized essentially all the known chemical reactions of the substances known to him at the time. Tables from the translation by J. A. Schufle, Johnson Reprint, 1968 are reproduced here.

X-Rays and Radioactivity

Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen paper announcing the discovery of X-rays. Read before the Würzburg Physical and Medical Society, 1895.

Antoine Henri Becquerel papers on the rays produced by phosphorescence (radiation acitivity) read before the French Academy of Science 24 Feb. 1896 and before the French Academy of Science 2 March 1896.

Marie Curie: 1898 paper on Rays emitted by compounds of uranium and of thorium. She suggests that a new radioactive element may be found in pitchblende.

Marie and Pierre Currie 1898 paper announcing the discovery of polonium

Pierre and Marie Curie and G. Bémont: December 1898 announcement of a new radioactive element, radium.

Ernest Rutherford 1899 paper distinguishes between two types of radioactivity, which he labels alpha and beta.

Ernest Rutherford 1900 paper introduces concept of radioactive half-life and measures half-life of "thorium emanation" (now known as 220Rn).

Ernest Rutherford & Frederick Soddy 1902 on The Cause and Nature of Radioactivity. This paper concludes, "radioactive elements must be undergoing spontaneous transformation."

Ernest Rutherford and T. Royds 1909 On the Nature of the α Particle from Radioactive Substances. This paper identifies the α particle with doubly-charged helium.

Frederick Soddy 1913 paper on The Radio-Elements and the Periodic Law. This paper gives the rules for chemical transformations accompanying α and β decay.

Frederick Soddy 1913 on Intra-atomic Charge. This paper introduces the term "isotopes" for atoms which have the same nuclear charge but different mass.

Additional Papers on the History of Chemistry

Photos and Presentations on the History of Chemistry and Science Including Science History Tours