A Brief History of the Elements

The ancient Greeks 2,000 years ago thought there were only four elements – earth, air, fire and water. Chemistry was a very primitive affair, since experimental physics was unknown. Instead scientists came to conclusions using reason and deduction. Chemistry progressed very slow and by 1800 there were only about 30 known elements. Research was greatly aided by Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier, who laid down the modern idea of an element. He found and termed oxygen in 1778 and hydrogen in 1783. He put together the first extensive list of elements, and helped to reform chemical nomenclature. He was also the first to establish that sulphur – in 1777 - was an element rather than a compound.

Over the next century however, almost all the stable elements present on Earth were discovered. During the Twentieth Century, more elements were discovered, most of them not occurring naturally, but having to be produced artificially and but only existing briefly in the laboratory.

Year of Discovery

Name of Chemical Element

Symbol

Atomic Number

ancient

Copper

Cu

29

ancient

Sulfur

S

16

ancient

Silver

Ag

47

ancient

Tin

Sn

50

ancient

Antimony

Sb

51

ancient

Gold

Au

79

ancient

Mercury

Hg

80

ancient

Lead

Pb

82

~ 1400

Bismuth

Bi

83

1669

Phosphorus

P

15

~ 1694

Carbon

C

6

1735

Iron

Fe

26

1735

Platinum

Pt

78

1751

Nickel

Ni

28

1751

Cobalt

Co

27

1755

Magnesium

Mg

12

1772

Nitrogen

N

7

1774

Oxygen

O

8

1774

Manganese

Mn

25

1774

Chlorine

Cl

17

1774

Chromium

Cr

24

1776

Hydrogen

H

1

1781

Molybdenum

Mo

42

1782

Tellurium

Te

52

1783

Tungsten

W

74

1789

Zirconium

Zr

40

1789

Uranium

U

92

1790

Strontium

Sr

38

1791

Scandium

Sc

21

1794

Yttrium

Y

39

1797

Beryllium

Be

4

1797

Vanadium

V

23

1801

Niobium

Nb

41

1802

Tantalum

Ta

73

1803

Rhodium

Rh

45

1803

Palladium

Pd

46

1803

Cerium

Ce

58

1803

Osmium

Os

76

1803

Iridium

Ir

77

1807

Sodium

Na

11

1807

Potassium

K

19

1808

Boron

B

5

1808

Potassium

K

19

1808

Barium

Ba

56

1811

Iodine

I

53

1817

Lithium

Li

3

1817

Cadmium

Cd

48

1824

Silicon

Si

14

1817

Arsenic

As

33

1825

Aluminum

Al

13

1826

Selenium

Se

34

1829

Thorium

Th

90

1830

Titanium

Ti

22

1839

Lanthanum

La

57

1842

Erbium

Er

68

1843

Terbium

Tb

65

1844

Ruthenium

Ru

44

1860

Cesium

Cs

55

1861

Rubidium

Rb

37

1861

Thallium

Tl

81

1863

Indium

Tn

49

1867

Holmium

Ho

67

1875

Zinc

Zn

30

1878

Ytterbium

Yb

70

1879

Calcium

Ca

20

1879

Samarium

Sm

62

1879

Thulium

Tm

69

1880

Gadolinium

Gd

64

1885

Praseodymium

Pr

59

1885

Neodymium

Nd

60

1886

Fluorine

F

9

1886

Germanium

Ge

32

1886

Gallium

Ga

31

1886

Dysprosium

Dy

66

1894

Argon

Ar

18

1895

Helium

He

2

1898

Neon

Ne

10

1898

Krypton

Kr

36

1898

Xenon

Xe

54

1898

Polonium

Po

84

1898

>Radium

Ra

88

1899

Actinium

Ac

89

1900

Radon

Rn

86

1901

Europium

Eu

63

1907

Lutetium

Lu

71

1913

Protactinium

Pa

91

1923

Hafnium

Hf

72

1925

Rhenium

Re

75

1937

Technetium

Tc

43

1939

Francium

Fr

87

1940

Astatine

At

85

1940

Neptunium

Np

93

1940

Plutonium

Pu

94

1944

Americium

Am

95

1944

Curium

Cm

96

1945

Promethium

Pm

61

1949

Berkelium

Bk

97

1950

Californium

Cf

98

1952

Einsteinium

Es

99

1952

Fermium

Fm

100

1955

Mendelevium

Md

101

1958

Nobelium

No

102

1961

Lawrencium

Lr

103

1964

Rutherfordium

Rf

104

1967

Dubnium

Db

105

1974

Seaborgium

Sg

106

1981

Bohrium

Bh

107

1982

Meitnerium

Mt

109

1984

Hassium

Hs

108

1994

Darmstadtium

Ds

110

1994

Roentgenium

Rg

111

1996

Ununbium

Uub

112

1998

Ununtrium

Uut

113

1999

Ununoctium

Uuo

118

1999

Ununquadium

Uuq

114

2000

Ununhexium

Uuh

116

2004

Ununpentium

Uup

115

unknown

Ununseptium

Uus

117

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