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Who Discovered Hydrogen?

Arjun Kulkarni May 10, 2019
It is ironic how the discovery of the simplest element known to man turned out to be so complicated. Although the credit goes to a number of alchemists and physicists, it was a long time before someone managed to classify the true nature of the most 'elementary' gas present.
Hydrogen is one of the most common elements that make up the Earth. It is estimated that roughly 90% of the Earth contains it. It is also a crucial part of several chemical compounds, most notably, water.


As the story goes, hydrogen was first discovered, although unknowingly and unintentionally, by the legendary alchemist Paracelsus, who was also known by the name T.B. Von Hohenheim, from the 15th Century. It is said that T.B. Von Hohenheim was dabbling with acids and metals when he came across a substance which he neither knew nor he understood.
While T.B. Von Hohenheim is the one who may have unknowingly discovered it, he ended up leaving little note of his experiment which Robert Boyle in 1671, presumably picked up.
As Robert Boyle set out to make this discovery using the same basic elements - iron and acids, he too apparently came across hydrogen, but didn't really understand it. At least this is what the recorded history says. Whether another person accidentally stumbled across it before these two gentlemen, cannot be determined.
But this still conclusively doesn't put a name to the person who discovered, acknowledged, and understood the element known as hydrogen. Finally, a man named Henry Cavendish came along in 1766 and amazingly enough tried out the same experiment that T.B. Von Hohenheim and Boyle had struggled to understand and make much out of.
Henry Cavendish realized that the result of this experiment yielded a different sort of gas and disturbingly an inflammable one. Furthermore, when this gas burned, it turned into water. Cavendish realized that he has stumbled upon something special there, something which his predecessors haven't been able to figure out.
While by now, we have conclusively brought the matter about who discovered this element, to rest, fact remains that for all of Cavendish's discovery and intelligence, he never thought that he ought to give this new element a name.
This flaw was happily remedied by one Antoine Lavoisier - known to be one of the fathers of modern Chemistry alongside the earlier mentioned Robert Boyle. Antoine Lavoisier saw the most telling quality of element, which was its ability of turning into water when brought in contact with oxygen, and decided to call it hydrogen (hydro - water; gen - creating).

Basic Facts

  • Atomic Number: 1
  • Atomic Weight: 1.00794
  • Melting Point: 13.81 K (-259.34° C or -434.81° F)
  • Boiling Point: 20.28 K (-252.87°C or -423.17°F)
  • Density: 0.00008988 grams per cubic centimeter
  • Phase at Room Temperature: Gas
  • Element Classification: Non-metal
  • Period Number: 1
So as we come to the end of this post, we still aren't able to really place a finger on the one person who officially discovered hydrogen and when was it discovered. All we can say is that it had many fathers, Paracelsus for one and Boyle the other. But the main person in this post, and the one credited by most people as the discoverer, is Henry Cavendish.