Iron: historical information

  • Discoveror: known since ancient times
  • Place of discovery: not known
  • Date of discovery: unknown
  • Origin of name : from the Anglo-Saxon word "iron" or "iren" (the origin of the symbol Fe comes from the Latin word "ferrum" meaning "iron"). Possibly the word iron is derived from earlier words meaning "holy metal" because it was used to make the swords used in the Crusades..

Iron was known in prehistoric times. Genesis says that Tubal-Cain, seven generations from Adam, was "an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron." Smelted iron artifacts have been identified from around 3000 B.C. A remarkable iron pillar, dating to about A.D. 400, remains standing today in Delhi, India. This solid pillar is wrought iron and about 7.5 m high by 40 cm in diameter. Corrosion to the pillar has been minimal despite its exposure to the weather since its erection.

Sometime prior to the autumn of 1803, the Englishman John Dalton was able to explain the results of some of his studies by assuming that matter is composed of atoms and that all samples of any given compound consist of the same combination of these atoms. Dalton also noted that in series of compounds, the ratios of the masses of the second element that combine with a given weight of the first element can be reduced to small whole numbers (the law of multiple proportions). This was further evidence for atoms. Dalton's theory of atoms was published by Thomas Thomson in the 3rd edition of his System of Chemistry in 1807 and in a paper about strontium oxalates published in the Philosophical Transactions. Dalton published these ideas himself in the following year in the New System of Chemical Philosophy. The symbol used by Dalton for iron is shown below. [See History of Chemistry, Sir Edward Thorpe, volume 1, Watts & Co, London, 1914.]

Dalton's symbol for iron

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26 Fe
 Iron
 Fer
 Eisen
 Ijzer
 Ferro
 Hierro
 Järn
 Ferro

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