visit classic papers 

        Selected Classic Papers

from the

        History of Chemistry

The following papers from the history of chemistry are available as html
files. Many are seminal papers in their fields. Some are interesting
curiosities. Papers are arranged by subject below, or alphabetically.

Most of the entries reside either at the Classic Chemistry site at Le Moyne
College or on the historical papers section of John Park's ChemTeam site.
Links to classic papers outside the Classic Chemistry site are clearly

Last modified 10/18/99.

   * Atomic hypothesis and discrete nature of matter
   * Electricity, electrochemistry, and electrolyte solutions
   * The electron and electronic structure of matter
   * Elements: nature, number, and discovery
   * Environmental chemistry
   * Gases
   * Periodic table and periodic law
   * Radioactivity and the nucleus
   * Thermodynamics
   * Others

Atomic hypothesis and discrete nature of matter

   * Amedeo Avogadro, Journal de Physique (1811). Includes "Avogadro's
     hypothesis" that equal volumes of gas contain equal numbers of
     molecules. (Link to a biographical sketch of Avogadro or a picture of
   * Stanislao Cannizzaro (1858): This outline of a course in chemical
     philosophy was instrumental in establishing the validity of Avogadro's
     hypothesis and in setting atomic weights on a generally accepted basis.
     This paper is at the ChemTeam site; it is currently in the form of an
     extensive excerpt to be added to. Link to a biographical sketch.
   * John Dalton: 1803 article on solubility of gases in water, including
     Dalton's first investigation of the "relative weights of the ultimate
     particles of bodies"
   * John Dalton, excerpts from A New System of Chemistry (1808). Dalton's
     atomic hypothesis as well as the erroneous hypothesis that the simplest
     compound containing two elements contains atoms in a one-to-one ratio.
     Includes a figure representing various simple and compound atoms. (Link
     to a biographical sketch of Dalton or view his picture.)
   * Joseph-Louis Gay-Lussac, read before the Philomathic Society (1808).
     Reports results that combining ratios of many gases are ratios of small
     integers. (Link to a biographical sketch of Gay-lussac or a picture of
   * Karlsruhe Congress, 1860, account written by Charles-Adolfe Wurtz. The
     first international chemistry congress debates the reality and
     terminology of atoms and equivalents. (Link to a photo of Wurtz.)
   * Lucretius, excerpts from a 17th-century English verse translation of
     the Latin verse treatise De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things).
     This selection speculates about Nature's bodies unseen and the Voyd.
     This paper is at the ChemTeam site. Full text is available from the
     Internet Classics Archive.
   * Jean Charles de Marignac (1860): commentary on the paper by J. S. Stas
     that probed and dismissed Prout's hypothesis.
   * Jean Charles de Marignac and Marcellin Berthelot on atoms, equivalents,
     and notation (1877): first an article by Marignac, then a response by
     Berthelot, and another brief response by Marignac. They disagree over
     notation, but both are skeptical about the existence of atoms. (Link to
     a photo of Berthelot.)
   * James Clerk Maxwell, reviews the physical atomic-molecular theory
     (1873). (Link to a biographical sketch of Maxwell.)
   * James Clerk Maxwell, on the kinetic molecular theory (including
     Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution of molecular speeds) and its support for
     the molecular nature of matter (1875).
   * Isaac Newton, from the end of his Opticks (1704). This passage, which
     inspired Dalton's atomic hypothesis, also treats the nature of God and
     induction in scientific method. Look here for more on Newton.
   * Jean Perrin (1909): excerpt on Brownian movement and the reality of
     molecules, including an esimation of Avogadro's number (and the coining
     of that term). Link to a biographical sketch of Perrin.
   * Joseph Louis Proust (1799): on definite proportions of copper
     carbonate. (Link to a biographical paragraph on Proust or a picture of
   * William Prout, noting that densities of gases are multiples of the
     density of hydrogen, speculates that hydrogen may be the primary
     material from which all other materials are made (1815-16). (Link to a
     picture of Prout.)
   * Jean S. Stas, on atomic weights of common elements (1860), deems
     Prout's hypothesis an illusion. (See also companion paper by Marignac.)
   * Thomas Thomson, "On the Daltonian Theory of Definite Proportions in
     Chemical Combinations" (1813), an early amplification and defence of
     Dalton's ideas. (View a picture of Thomson in the Edgar Fahs Smith

Electricity, Electrochemistry, and electrolyte solutions

   * Svante Arrhenius: 1887 paper "On the Dissociation of Substances
     Dissolved in Water" concerning electrolyte solutions. This paper is at
     the ChemTeam site.
   * Niels Bjerrum: 1909 paper on solutions of strong electrolytes. This
     paper is at the ChemTeam site.
   * J. N. Brønsted: 1923 paper on the concept of acids and bases. This
     paper is at the ChemTeam site as is this photo.
   * P. Debye and E. Hückel: 1923 paper on colligative properties of
     electrolyte solutions. This paper is at the ChemTeam site, as is a
     photo of Debye.
   * Michael Faraday: excerpt of 1834 paper "On Electrical Decomposition",
     which coined such common terms as electrode, anode, cathode, anion, and
     cation. Faraday also announced the result that the "chemical
     decomposing action of a current is constant for a constant quantity of
     electricity". This paper is at the ChemTeam site. (Link to a biography
     of Faraday by 19th-century physicist John Tyndall.)
   * Hermann von Helmholtz: 1881 Faraday lecture on Faraday and electricity.
     This paper is at the ChemTeam site. (Link to a biographical sketch of
   * Lord Kelvin (William Thomson): excerpt from 1902 paper speculating on
     how discrete electrical charges ("electrions") within atoms might
     underlie properties of those atoms. This paper is at the ChemTeam site.
   * Wilhelm Friedrich Ostwald: 1888 paper describing dilution law. This
     paper is at the ChemTeam site. (Link to a biographical sketch of
   * Sören Sörensen: excerpt from 1909 paper which introduces the pH scale.
     This paper is at the ChemTeam site. (View a picture of Sörensen at the
     Edgar Fahs Smith Collection.)
   * Alessandro Volta: on the battery, 1800, using discs of silver and zinc.
     This paper is at the ChemTeam site as is this picture.

The Electron and Electronic Structure of Matter

   * Johann Balmer: from 1885 paper noting numerical regularities in
     wavelength of lines of the hydrogen spectrum. (Link to a biographical
     sketch of Balmer.)
   * Niels Bohr: 1913 excerpt of address on application of Planck's quantum
     hypothesis to the spectrum of hydrogen. (Link to a biographical sketch
     of Bohr.)
   * Niels Bohr: his model of the atom, 1913. This paper is at the ChemTeam
   * Niels Bohr: 1921 excerpt on the "correspondence principle" of quantum
   * Niels Bohr: 1921 paper on electron configurations and atomic structure.
     This paper is at the ChemTeam site.
   * Charles R. Bury: 1921 paper on the arrangement of electrons in atoms;
     gives electron configurations for most of the periodic table. This
     paper is at the ChemTeam site.
   * W. Kossel: 1916 paper on relationship of bonding to periodic table and
     atomic structure. (This paper is at the ChemTeam site.)
   * Irving Langmuir: 1919 papers on the octet theory of chemical bonding.
     These papers are at the ChemTeam site: 1 and 2 . (Link to a
     biographical sketch of Langmuir.)
   * G. N. Lewis: 1916 paper on the electron pair bond. This paper is at the
     ChemTeam site, as is this picture. (Link to a biographical sketch of
   * Hantaro Nagaoka (1904): from Saturnian model of atomic structure (i.e.,
     ring of particles around a central force). This paper is at the
     ChemTeam site. (Link to a photo of Nagaoka.)
   * Jean Perrin (1895): collects cathode rays, obtaining a negative charge.
     (This paper is at the ChemTeam site.)
   * Max Planck (1920): excerpt on the quantum of action from Nobel Prize
     address. (Link to a biographical sketch.)
   * J. J. Thomson: in time for the centennial of the discovery of the
     electron, the 1897 paper which announced it to the scientific
     community. Some of Thomson's contemporaries thought he must be kidding
     when he claimed that cathode rays were electrically charged particles
     with a mass-to-charge ratio 1000 times less than hydrogen ions. (Link
     to a biographical sketch of Thomson or more information on the
     discovery of the electron.)
   * J. J. Thomson: 1899 paper further characterizing cathode ray corpuscles
     by identifying them with thermoelectric, photoelectric, and
     radioactivity phenomena and measuring their mass. This paper is at the
     ChemTeam site.
   * J. J. Thomson: excerpt from "On the Structure of the Atom ..." (1904),
     elaborating the "plum pudding" model. This paper is at the ChemTeam
   * J. J. Thomson: excerpt from "On the Number of Corpuscles [i.e.,
     electrons] in an Atom" (1906). The number is of the same order as the
     atomic weight, not thousands of times that number. This paper is at the
     ChemTeam site.
   * J. J. Thomson: Nobel Prize in Physics Award Address, 1906, on the
     characterization of the electron.
   *  [NEW!] J. J. Thomson: on the positive rays of electric discharge tubes
     (1913), recognizing them as atoms and molecules stripped of one or more
     electrons, describing essentially an early mass spectrometer, and
     giving evidence for a heavy isotope of neon.
   * Pieter Zeeman (1897): description of the magnetic splitting of spectral
     lines now named after him; includes measurement of the charge-to-mass
     ratio of what we now call the electron, independent of Thomson's
     cathode-ray research. This paper is at the ChemTeam site. (Link to a
     biographical sketch of Zeeman.)

Elements: Nature, Number, and Discovery

   * Aristotle: On Generation and Corruption. This work is at the Internet
     Classics Archive at MIT. The first five parts of Book II in particular
     discuss elements, and in particular the system of four elements that
     predates Aristotle.
   * Robert Boyle: The Sceptical Chymist (1661), page images at University
     of Pennsylvania. Boyle does not know how many elements there are or
     what those elements may be; however, he knows that those who believe
     the elements to be earth, air, fire, and water or mercury, sulfur, and
     salt do so on an insufficient basis. See HTML excerpts at this site
     (Classic Chemistry). (Link to a biographical sketch of Boyle or a
     picture of him.)
   * Pierre and Marie Curie: in its centennial year, the 1898 announcement
     of a new radioactive element, polonium. (Link to a biographical sketch
     of Curie.)
   * Pierre and Marie Curie and G. Bémont: in time for its centennial, the
     December 1898 announcement of a new strongly radioactive element,
   * Humphry Davy: isolation of the alkali metals sodium and potassium
     (1808). (This paper is at the ChemTeam site. Link to a biographical
     sketch of Davy.)
   * Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac and Louis Thenard (1809): attempts to decompose
     "oxygenated muriatic acid" (the gas which we know as chlorine) prove
     difficult; the authors consider the possibility that it is an element,
     but are not convinced. The paper contains some interesting
     photochemistry as well. (Link to a biographical sketch of Gay-lussac or
     Thenard or a picture of Gay-Lussac or Thenard.)
   * Antoine Lavoisier, read before the Academie royale des sciences (1775).
     Identification of the substance (oxygen) which combines with metals
     upon calcination; this version includes paper as read in 1775 and as
     published (revised) in 1778. (Link to a biography of Lavoisier.)
   * Antoine Lavoisier (1783): maybe not the first to recognize that water
     was a compound and not an element, but he certainly had a clearer
     command of the phenomenon than his English phlogistonist
     contemporaries, Cavendish and Watt.
   * Antoine Lavoisier: Preface to Elements of Chemistry (1789); discusses
     chemical nomenclature and the definition of element
   * Antoine Lavoisier: Table of simple substances (elements) from Elements
     of Chemistry (1789); includes his criterion for considering a substance
   * Paul Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran: 1877 excerpt on discovery of gallium.
     This paper is at the ChemTeam site.
   * Lars Nilson: two excerpts (1879, 1880) on the discovery of scandium.
     This paper is at the ChemTeam site.
   * Paracelsus: 16th century on alchemy and the metals. This paper is at
     the ChemTeam site. (Link to biographical information on Paracelsus.)
   * Joseph Priestley: a report describing the discovery of oxygen in terms
     which continue to embrace the phlogiston theory; it is refreshing in
     Priestley's frank admission of astonishment at the results he
     describes. (Link to a biographical sketch of Priestley or a picture of
   * Joseph Priestley: 1789 paper skeptical of the idea that water is the
     exclusive result of burning hydrogen in oxygen.
   * Lord Rayleigh, Royal Institution Proceedings (1895). An informal
     lecture describing the discovery of argon by the author and Sir William
   * Carl Wilhelm Scheele (1774): excerpts from investigations of
     "manganese", describing the gas which we know as chlorine. (View a
     picture of Scheele or a drawing of his laboratory.)
   * James Watt (1784): "Thoughts on the Constituent Parts of Water"
     (excerpt). (Link to a biogarphy of Watt by Andrew Carnegie.)
   * Clemens Winkler: two excerpts (1886) on the discovery of germanium.
     This paper is at the ChemTeam site.

Environmental chemistry

   * Svante Arrhenius, Philosophical Magazine (1896) excerpt. Not a paper
     about acidity, electrolyte solutions, or the temperature dependence of
     rate constants, but rather about the greenhouse effect including an
     attempt to compute temperature effects in a world with twice as much
     carbon dioxide. (Link to a biographical sketch of Arrhenius.)
   * Paul Crutzen, "The influence of nitrogen oxides on the atmospheric
     ozone content", by Paul J. Crutzen, Quarterly Journal of the Royal
     Meteorological Society 96, 320-325 (1970). (Copyright ©1970. Posted
     with the permission of the author, the Royal Meteorological Society,
     and the Journal.) This paper proposes the major ozone-destruction
     mechanism in the natural stratosphere. (Crutzen was one of three
     recipients of the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry. Link to his home
   * John Dalton. The author of chemistry's atomic theory studied the gases
     of the atmosphere first (read 1802).
   * Michael Faraday, 1855 letter to The Times on the foul condition of the
     Thames. While not a formal scientific paper, this letter (at the
     ChemTeam site) shows Faraday's powers of observation and plain
     description turned to a topic which continues to engage scientists and


   * Joseph Black (1756). A description of several reactions involving
     carbonates and their release of "fixed air" (carbon dioxide). (View a
     picture of Black in the Edgar Fahs Smith collection.)
   * Robert Boyle on the relationship between pressure and volume of a gas
     (Boyle's law), 1662. This excerpt and a facsimile are in a discussion
     of Boyle's law at the ChemTeam site.
   * Robert Boyle, (1672). Excerpts on the difficulty of getting anything to
     burn in a vacuum.
   * Henry Cavendish: determined that the "phlogisticated" part of the
     atmosphere (i.e., nitrogen) could be converted to niter, all except
     possibly a tiny fraction of less than 1% by volume (probably argon).
     (Link to a biographical sketch of Cavendish.)
   * John Dalton: on gases of the atmosphere, including their partial
     pressures (read 1802).
   * Humphry Davy: early paper on chlorine and its compounds (1811). This
     paper is at the ChemTeam site.
   * Michael Faraday (1823): on the liquefaction of chlorine. (This paper is
     at the ChemTeam site.)
   * Benjamin Franklin. This founding father was a scientist as well as a
     statesman. In this letter he describes the effects of marsh gas to
     Joseph Priestley. Link to more on Franklin.
   * Joseph-Louis Gay-Lussac: 1802 excerpt reports that all gases and vapors
     expand the same amount with increased temperature.
   * Jan Baptista van Helmont: three short excerpts from the border of
     alchemy and chemistry, including coining of the term gas and an
     experiment producing a tree from water. Link to biographical
   * Jan Ingenhousz, (1779). Describes the ability of plants to "improve"
     the air in a process which requires light. This intriguing description
     of photosynthesis didn't get everything right, however. Link to a
     modern description of photosynthesis.
   * Antoine Lavoisier (1775-1777): Excerpts from three papers on properties
     of oxygen at the ChemTeam site. The first identifies oxygen as what
     combines with metals to make calces (and is available in full here);
     the second looks at respiration; the third examines burning of candles.
   * Antoine Lavoisier, read before the Academie royale des sciences (1775).
     Puts forth his theory of combustion and criticizes the phlogiston
   * Johann Josef Loschmidt (1865): estimates the size of air molecules.
     This paper is at the ChemTeam site.
   * John Mayow: convincing argument that the air contains at least two
     portions, one of which nurtures flame and enters the blood in
     respiration (1674). Link to biographical information on Mayow.
   * Lord Rayleigh, Nature (1892). Interesting because of its frank
     admission of puzzlement and call for assistance in resolving anomalies
     which would eventually lead to the discovery of argon.
   * Joseph Priestley (1772): instructions and observations on making
     carbonated water. (This item is available as facsimile images at the
     ChemTeam site.)
   * Jean Rey (1630): Essays on the cause of the increase in weight of tin
     and lead upon calcination (excerpts). Rey says that the air is the
     cause, foreshadowing the conclusion established by solid
     experimentation nearly a century and a half later. Link to biographical
     information on Rey.
   * Evangelista Torricelli (1644). Letter describing the barometer
     (includes an illustration). (Link to more information on Torricelli or
     view his picture.)
   * Jacobus van't Hoff: osmosis and the analogy between solutions and gases
     (1887). This paper is at the ChemTeam site. Link to a biographical
     sketch of van't Hoff.


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