A Timeline of When Elements Were Discovered and Who Discovered Them

The universe is full of some pretty cool stuff. But what makes up that stuff? Our detailed periodic table of elements timeline maps the history of humanity’s incredible discoveries of the stuff that makes up stuff!

Click on the image to view full size

timeline-when-elements-were-discovered-6a

Here is a printable PDF of A Timeline of When Elements Were Discovered, feel free to share and print

From the readily available copper to the noble gases hiding in the air we breathe, elements have been hiding in plain sight for eons. Chemical elements are the indivisible substances that make up the building blocks of matter — or, really, “stuff.” Made up of atoms with a certain number of protons, neutrons, and electrons, each one fits perfectly within its place on the periodic table of elements.

Timeline dates show us, though, that the journey of figuring all of this out has been a bumpy one. For one thing, our modern table wasn’t systematized until 1869 by Dmitri Mendeleev, whose table even featured blank spots for elements that hadn’t been discovered yet!

Element discovery dates range from ancient times to the modern era. Due to the availability of many common metal elements, our history of working with and using elements like gold, copper, and lead far predates the history of the periodic table. The timeline of the history of periodic table is sporadic, with some “discoveries” happening via ancient artifacts and others happening during a wave of chemistry discoveries in the 17th century. We also saw a huge explosion of scientific discovery of elements, for better and for worse, during the mid-20th century while bigger and bigger atoms were being worked with as part of nuclear weapons research. Check out the history of chemical elements and when they were discovered to see how our journey to understanding these combinations of protons, neutrons, and electrons has changed over the centuries!

The Discoverers of Periodic Elements

Click on the image to view full size

discoverers-of-periodic-elements-6b

Here is a printable PDF of Discoverers of Periodic Elements, feel free to share and print 

What Was the First Element Discovered?

While it was not understood to be an element at that time, the first element discovered was copper (Cu) due to the fact that its oldest known use was in 9,000 B.C.E. and the oldest existing sample from that era was from 6,000 B.C.E. Also in antiquity, lead, gold, silver, iron, tin, carbon, and several other elements commonly found in nature were “discovered.” This was long before Democritus and his teacher Leucippus conceptualized atomic theory among the ancient Greeks and long, long before anyone had attempted to arrange a periodic table of elements. Discovery dates after antiquity include those elements that were chemically found. The first of those chemically found discoveries was in 1669, when Henning Brand discovered phosphorus by boiling urine in his quest to discover the philosopher’s stone.

What Is the Most Recent Element Discovered?

The latest element discovered wasn’t so much “discovered” as it was synthesized: tennessine (Ts). A Russian-American collaboration created the element in 2009, officially announcing it in 2010. This most recently discovered element was one of several that have been synthesized in labs in the 21st century, with others including Nihonium (named after Japan), Moscovium (named after Moscow), Oganesson (named after scientist Yuri Oganessian), and Livermorium (named after a U.S. federal research laboratory).

Are We Still Discovering New Elements?

Many people believe the discovery of chemical elements has slowed down since the Manhattan Project in the 1940s, but this is not the case. No one knows how heavy we can go, but theoretically, elements 119 and 120 are possible with current technology. They are likely not found in nature and exceedingly difficult to create. They would also require a new row to be added to the periodic table.

When Were All the Elements Discovered?

Our infographic shows when each element was discovered, but here is our list of elements in order of discovery written out as well.

List of Elements by Discovery Date

Copper
Cu
9000 B.C.E.
Lead
Pb
7000 B.C.E.
Gold
Au
6000 B.C.E.
Silver
Ag
5000 B.C.E.
Iron
Fe
5000 B.C.E.
Carbon
C
3500 B.C.E.
Tin
Sn
3500 B.C.E.
Sulfur
S
2000 B.C.E.
Mercury
Hg
2000 B.C.E.
Zinc
Zn
1000 B.C.E.
Arsenic
As
300 B.C.E.
Antimony
Sb
800 B.C.E.
Phosphorus
P
1669 C.E.
Cobalt
Co
1735
Platinum
Pt
1741
Nickel
Ni
1751
Bismuth
Bi
1753
Magnesium
Mg
1755
Hydrogen
H
1766
Oxygen
O
1771
Nitrogen
N
1772
Barium
Ba
1772
Chlorine
Cl
1774
Manganese
Mn
1774
Molybdenum
Mo
1778
Tungsten
W
1781
Tellurium
Te
1782
Strontium
Sr
1787
Zirconium
Zr
1789
Uranium
U
1789
Titanium
Ti
1791
Yttrium
Y
1794
Chromium
Cr
1794
Beryllium
Be
1798
Vanadium
V
1801
Niobium
Nb
1801
Tantalum
Ta
1802
Palladium
Pd
1802
Cerium
Ce
1803
Osmium
Os
1803
Iridium
Ir
1803
Rhodium
Rh
1804
Potassium
K
1807
Sodium
Na
1807
Calcium
Ca
1808
Boron
B
1808
Fluorine
F
1810
Iodine
I
1811
Lithium
Li
1817
Cadmium
Cd
1817
Selenium
Se
1817
Silicon
Si
1823
Aluminum
Al
1825
Bromine
Br
1825
Thorium
Th
1829
Lanthanum
La
1838
Erbium
Er
1843
Terbium
Tb
1843
Ruthenium
Ru
1844
Cesium
CS
1860
Rubidium
Rb
1861
Thallium
Tl
1861
Indium
In
1863
Helium
He
1868
Gallium
Ga
1875
Ytterbium
Yb
1878
Holmium
Ho
1878
Thulium
Tm
1879
Scandium
Sc
1879
Samarium
Sm
1879
Gadolinium
Gd
1880
Praseodymium
Pr
1885
Neodymium
Nd
1885
Germanium
Ge
1886
Dysprosium
Dy
1886
Argon
Ar
1894
Europium
Eu
1896
Krypton
Kr
1898
Neon
Ne
1898
Xenon
Xe
1898
Polonium
Po
1898
Radium
Ra
1898
Radon
Rn
1899
Actinium
Ac
1902
Lutetium
Lu
1906
Rhenium
Re
1908
Protactinium
Pa
1913
Hafnium
Hf
1922
Technetium
Tc
1937
Francium
Fr
1939
Neptunium
Np
1940
Astatine
At
1940
Plutonium
Pu
1940
Promethium
Pm
1942
Curium
Cm
1944
Americium
Am
1944
Berkelium
Bk
1949
Californium
Cf
1950
Einsteinium
Es
1952
Fermium
Fm
1952
Mendelevium
Md
1955
Lawrencium
Lr
1961
Nobelium
No
1966
Rutherfordium
Rf
1969
Dubnium
Db
1970
Seaborgium
Sg
1974
Bohrium
Bh
1981
Meitnerium
Mt
1982
Hassium
Hs
1984
Darmstadtium
Ds
1994
Roentgenium
Rg
1994
Copernicium
Cn
1994
Flerovium
Fl
1999
Livermorium
Lv
2000
Oganesson
Og
2002
Moscovium
Mc
2003
Nihonium
Nh
2004
Tennessine
Ts
2009

Our periodic table discovery timeline maps the journey of when we discovered some of the coolest metal substances ever. Most materials on the periodic table are some form of metal, and the discoveries of the periodic elements allowed us to create more and more powerful metals and alloys over time, enabling us to create stronger and harder metals as well as better metal buildings. Who knows? Perhaps the volatile, atomically heavier elements we synthesize will let us build cooler and more amazing stuff!

Photo sources:

Photos by Jurii (Wikimedia.org)

Photos by Hi-Res Images of Chemical Elements (Wikimedia.org)

Photos by Robert M. Lavinsky (Wikimedia.org)

Photos by W. Oelen (Wikimedia.org)

Photos by Unknown (Wikimedia.org)

Original works by Greg Robson (Wikimedia.org)

“Gold (Nevada, USA) 1” photo by James St. John (Flickr)

“Element mercury (HG), liquid form” photo by Bionerd (Wikimedia.org)

Zosimos photo by Rvalette (Wikimedia.org)

“Crystals of pure platinum…” photo by Periodictableru (Wikimedia.org)

“Das chemische Element und Metall Wismut…” photo by Alchemist-hp (Wikimedia.org)

“A chunk of vapor-deposited magnesium crystals…” by Warut Roonguthai (Wikimedia.org)

Mangnanese photo by Thamizhpparithi Maari (Wikimedia.org)

“Hydrogen lamp” photo by UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences (Flickr)

“Liquid nitrogren…” photo by Cory Doctorow (Flickr)

“I mixed bleach and muriatic acid…” photo by Larenmclane (Wikimedia.org)

“Niobium crystal…” photo by Dnn87 (Wikimedia.org)

“Cluster of osmium…” photo by Periodictableru (Wikimedia.org)

“Potassium pearls…” photo by Unknown (Wikimedia.org)

“Boron…” photo by Xvazquez (Wikimedia.org)

“crystals of flourite…” photo by Parent Gèry (Wikimedia.org)

“600px-Lanthanum-2” photo by GrrlScientist (Flickr)

“Erbium…” photo by Tomihahndorf (Wikimedia.org)

“Cesium/Caesium…” photo by Dnn87 (Wikimedia.org)

“Gallium crystals..” photo by en:user:foobar (Wikimedia.org)

“Crystal of Scandium…” photo by JanDerChemiker (Wikimedia.org)

“enhanced Bohr model…” original work by Ahazard.sciencewriter (Wikimedia.org)

“Astatine…” photo by Elahe81 (Wikimedia.org)

“A small disc of Am-241…” photo by Bionerd (Wikimedia.org)

Want to display this infographic on your website? You can copy the below code and paste it into your website.