Sulfur: historical information

Sulfur was discovered by Known since ancient times at no data in not known. Origin of name: from the Sanskrit word "sulvere" meaning "sulphur"; also from the Latin word "sulphurium" meaning "sulphur".

Sulphur was known in ancient times and referred to in Genesis as brimstone. Assyrian texts dated around 700-600 BC refer to it as the "product of the riverside", where deposits could be found. In the 9th century BC, Homer mentioned "pest-averting sulphur". In 424 BC, the tribe of Bootier destroyed a city's walls using a burning mixture of coal, sulphur, and tar.

Around the 12th century, the Chinese, probably, discovered gun powder (a mixture of potassium nitrate, KNO3, carbon, and sulphur).

Sulphur is one of the elements which has an alchemical symbol, shown below (alchemy is an ancient pursuit concerned with, for instance, the transformation of other metals into gold). Alchemists knew that mercury can be fixed with sulphur.

alchemical symbol of sulphur

Possibly Antoine Lavoisier should be credited with convincing the scientific community that sulphur is an element (around 1777).

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 sulphur is shown below. [See History of Chemistry, Sir Edward Thorpe, volume 1, Watts & Co, London, 1914.]

{{floatR}}Dalton's symbol for sulphur{{/floatR}}

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sulfur atomic number