If you ask a chemist who invented the periodic table, the usual answer is Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869. His table most closely resembles the modern periodic table. Mendeleev’s table ordered elements by increasing atomic weight and grouped them by recurring or “periodic” properties. The difference between his table and the modern table is that today’s periodic table lists elements by increasing atomic number (number of protons in the atom). In Mendeleev’s time, protons and atomic numbers were unknown, so using atomic weight was the best option.
However, other people made tables organizing elements by increasing atomic weight or by common properties before Mendeleev. These scientists deserve credit, too. Here is a look at their contributions to the development of the periodic table.
- Most chemists credit Dmitri Mendeleev with the invention of the periodic table in 1869.
- Other scientists also discovered periodic tables, including de Chancourtois, Newlands, and Meyer.
- Mendeleev’s periodic table organized elements by atomic weight and periodicity. Spaces in the table allowed for the prediction of new elements and their properties.
- The modern periodic table is like Mendeleev’s, except it orders elements by atomic number instead of atomic weight.
Scientists Who Discovered the Periodic Table
1789 – Antoine Lavoisier
1829 – Johann Döbereiner
Johann Döbereiner recognized triads of elements had similar chemical properties. For example, lithium, sodium, and potassium all share properties. Döbereiner demonstrated the possibility of predicting the properties of one element based on the properties of the other two.
1862 – Alexandre Béguyer de Chancourtois
French geologist de Chancourtois published a periodic table in 1862 which he called “vis tellurique” or the telluric screw. His table arranged elements according to atomic weight on the outside of a cylinder so that elements with common properties formed a vertical line. This was the first truly periodic table, with elements arranged according to recurring trends in their properties. However, a three-dimensional table never quite caught on.
1864 – John Newlands
In 1864, John Newlands described the relationships between atomic weight and periodic element properties. He called this the Law of Octaves, where properties displayed periodicity for every 8th element group. Newlands published his findings in 1865. Using the Law of Octaves, Newlands predicted the existence of germanium and other elements. However, Newlands did not leave gaps for undiscovered elements in his table and sometimes had two elements in one spot. The Chemical Society refused to publish his paper, so he did not get credit for his discoveries until much later.
1868 – Julius Lothar Meyer
Meyer made several different periodic tables between 1864-1870. His first table organized elements according to valence and contained 28 elements. His 1868 table included more elements and ordered them by atomic weight. Also, the elements fell into vertical lines according their valence, much like Mendeleev’s table and the modern table. Meyer also graphed periodic trends in element properties based on atomic weight. His work was not published until 1870 (a year after Mendeleev), so he did not receive credit for inventing the periodic table.
1869 – Dmitri Mendeleev
Scientists knew of 56 elements in 1863 and understood the concept of periodicity from Newland’s Law of Octaves. Mendeleev drew on this information when he wrote Principles of Chemistry between 1868 and 1870 as a textbook for a course. According to some historians, Mendeleev envisioned the arrangement of elements into a table in a dream. He presented his table to the Russian Chemical Society on March 6, 1869. His table ordered elements by atomic weight and organized them by periodicity of properties. He noted these properties related to element valence. Like Newlands, Mendeleev predicted the existence of new elements based on “holes” in his periodic table.
1913 – Henry Moseley
Henry Moseley did not invent the periodic table, but he did find a way of measuring atomic number. Moseley discovered x-ray spectra correspond to the number of protons in the atomic nucleus. The number of protons is a constant for all atoms of an element, so it is that element’s atomic number. Chemists realized ordering the elements by atomic weight mostly produced the same table as ordering the elements by atomic number. Exceptions include the placement of the elements iodine and tellurium. Changing the element order from atomic weight to atomic number gave the table the form we use today.
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