Chemically, zinc is represented by the symbol 'Zn'. It has derived its name from the German word Zinke, which means 'tooth-like' or 'pointed'. It is believed that Paracelsus, a noted German alchemist of the Medieval period, gave this name. In his book named, Liber Mineralium II, he has mentioned the metal as 'zincum' or 'zinken'. This element is also called by various other names like Indian tin, calamine, etc.
Zinc has been used in its impure form since ancient times. Various evidences have been found, which point out to the fact that it was also utilized for various purposes during the prehistoric times. Evidences of its usage in statues and ornaments dates back to about 2500 years.
Brass is an alloy of zinc and copper. The Romans had a knowledge of the methods to manufacture this alloy, since around 30 BC. In those times, it made by heating a mixture of powdered calamine, charcoal, and copper in a melting pot. The resultant substance was calamine brass, which was then cast into the required shape. They used this type of brass for various purposes like making weapons and coins.
India is believed to be the place where zinc was first recognized as a metal in the year 1374. Here, during the 13th century, impure zinc was extracted from its ores, by reducing calamine with different organic substances like wool. Zinc mines and smelters found in Zawar, Udaipur, in India, provide evidence to prove that they knew the technique to produce metallic zinc and zinc oxide on a large-scale basis, during the period between 12th to 16th centuries. The first reference of the use of this metal for medicinal purposes is found in an ancient ayurvedic text of India, called Charaka Samhita. The people of Europe came to know about the existence of this metal much later, around the end of the 16th century. The first zinc smelter developed in Europe was in 1743, at Bristol in the UK. The Chinese learned about the manufacturing process in the 17th century.
The biggest zinc mine in the world is the Red Dog mine, located in Alaska. The pure, metallic form of this element was discovered in 1746. During the 17th and 18th centuries, Europe was importing zinc from the Orient, and at that time, it was a highly expensive metal. The credit for isolating it from its ores, goes to German chemist Andreas S. Marggraf. In 1746, he conducted an experiment, wherein he extracted zinc by heating calamine and carbon. The electrochemical properties of zinc were established through the work of Luigi Galvani and Alessandro Volta in 1800.
The properties of zinc makes it a unique metal. In modern times, it has several applications. Zinc is used to remove impurities from water. The surface of steel is often coated with zinc to prevent corrosion. It is a key constituent of a useful alloy like brass. It is also used in batteries.