The discovery of metals has played an important role in the overall development of our civilization. Thousands of years ago, people needed tools and weapons, and they made them out of metals. Metals have also been involved with the development of farming, transportation, the arts, and more. Today, metals are used for everything from jewelry to carports to electrical wires.
6000 B.C.E.: Humans learned how to use gold to make jewelry. Gold became popular because it was scarce and because it was beautiful.
4200 B.C.E.: Copper was used to make tools and weapons.
3500 B.C.E.: Lead smelting began around this time. The oldest known artifact made of lead was found at the temple of Osiris in Abydos, Egypt, and it was dated to around 3800 B.C.E.
1750 B.C.E.: People began smelting copper with tin to create bronze.
1600 B.C.E.: Antimony was discovered around 1600 BC. It has a silvery color and is hard and brittle.
1557 B.C.E.: Platinum was discovered in Central America by Julius Scaliger. It was named “little silver” in Spanish.
750 B.C.E.: Mercury was used by ancient people in China and India. It has also been found in an Egyptian tomb.
1735: Georg Brandt, a Swedish chemist, isolated cobalt, one of three naturally magnetic metals. Nickel and iron are the other two magnetic metals.
1751: Swedish chemist Axel Cronstedt identified and isolated nickel as an element. Nickel is the second-most-plentiful element in Earth’s core.
1753: Claude Geoffrey Junine officially discovered bismuth in 1753, but people in ancient civilizations used it before this. Bismuth has a pinkish-red color.
1774: Although manganese was used in ancient civilizations, it wasn’t officially isolated until 1774, by a Swedish chemist named Johan Gottlieb Gahn.
1781: Molybdenum was discovered. It has a very high melting point, and it’s used in light bulb filaments and in furnace parts.
1782: Franz-Joseph Muller von Rechenstein discovered tellurium, which was used to make the outer shell of the first atom bomb.
1783: Fausto and Juan Jose de Elhuyar succeeded in isolating tungsten. Its name means “heavy stone.” Tungsten resists both high heat and wear.
1789: Martin Heinrich Klaproth discovered uranium and zirconium. People in ancient civilizations used uranium oxide to add color to glass and ceramics. Today, uranium is used to produce nuclear weapons and fuel.
1791: The Rev. William Gregor discovered titanium, and he named it after the Greek titans.
1797: L.N. Vauqueline discovered chromium. The name “chromium” comes from the Greek word “chroma,” which means “color.”
1817: Lithium, cadmium, and selenium were discovered.
1823: Swedish chemist Jons Jacob Berzelius discovered silicone as a metal element.
1825: Hans Christian Oersted produced an aluminum alloy. Other chemists worked with this alloy for years until they were able to make balls of solidified molten aluminum.
1863: Indium, a soft metal, was discovered by two German chemists. Indium was named for the indigo light it emits under a spectroscope.
1898: Marie and Pierre Curie discovered polonium and radium, which are rare radioactive metals.
1901: Eugene-Anatole Demarcay discovered europium, naming it after Europe.
1907: Austrian chemist Carl Auer von Welsbach discovered lutetium.
1917: Protactinium was first called protoactinium, but later, scientists shortened the name.
1923: Dirk Coster and George Charles de Hevesy discovered hafnium. Its name comes from the Latin name for Copenhagen.
1924: Ida Tacke-Noddack, Walter Noddack, and Otto Berg co-discovered rhenium.
1937: Technetium was discovered by Carlo Perrier and Emilio Segre. Its name derives from the Greek word for “artificial”; it was the first element to be created in a lab.
1939: Marguerite Perey, a French chemist, discovered francium.
1945: Czech chemist Bohuslav Brauner predicted that promethium existed in 1902, but it wasn’t until 1945 that it was first produced in a lab.
- History of Antimony
- Overview and History of Platinum
- Learn About Cobalt
- History of Nickel
- The Element Bismuth
- Facts About Manganese
- Molybdenum: Minerals Education Coalition
- Martin Klaproth: Discoverer of Three Metal Elements
- General Information on Tellurium
- Tungsten Element Facts
- Titanium History: Alloy and Pure Metal
- Overview of Chromium
- Discovery of Silicon
- Aluminum History