Zinc: historical information

Zinc was discovered by Andreas Marggraf at 1746 in Germany. Origin of name: from the German word "zink".

Centuries before zinc was recognized as a distinct element, zinc ores were used for making brass (a mixture of copper and zinc). A brass dating from between 1400-1000 BC has been found in Palestine. An alloy containing 87% zinc was found in prehistoric ruins in Transylvania. The smelting of zinc ores with copper was apparently discovered in Cyprus and was used later by the Romans. Metallic zinc was produced in the 13th century in India by reducing calamine (zinc carbonate, ZnCO3) with organic substances such as wool.

The metal was rediscovered later in Europe. William Champion set up a zinc industry in Bristol (England) in the 1740s. Other plants were established a little later in Belgium and Silesia.

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

Dalton's symbol for zinc

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zinc atomic number