Chemistry Timeline

Chronology of Major Events in Chemistry

Teenage girls studying DNA molecule, science at home.
fstop123/Getty Images

Timeline of major events in chemistry history:

The B.C. Era

The early years of history didn't have many significant scientific developments, but there was one surprisingly important development in the fifth century B.C.

Democritus (465 B.C.)

First to propose that matter exists in the form of particles. Coined the term 'atoms.'
"by convention bitter, by convention sweet, but in reality atoms and void"

1000 to 1600s

From alchemists who started practicing their trade about the year 1000 to the introduction of the first vacuum pump in the mid-1600s, this long period produced a number of scientific developments.

Alchemists (~1000–1650)

Among other things, the alchemists sought a universal solvent, attempted to change lead and other metals into gold, and tried to discover an elixir which would prolong life. The alchemists learned how to use metallic compounds and plant-derived materials to treat diseases.


Oldest written description of lodestone used as a compass.

Sir Robert Boyle (1637–1691)

Formulated the fundamental gas laws. First to propose the combination of small particles to form molecules. Differentiated between compounds and mixtures.

Evangelista Torricelli (1643)

Invented the mercury barometer.

Otto von Guericke (1645)

Constructed the first vacuum pump.


Scientific discovery stepped up quite a bit in this century, starting with the discovery of oxygen and other gasses to the invention of the electric battery, Benjamin Franklin's experiments with lightning (and his theory about electricity) to theories about the nature of heat.

James Bradley (1728)

Uses aberation of starlight to determine the speed of light to within 5% accuracy.

Joseph Priestley (1733–1804)

Discovered oxygen, carbon monoxide, and nitrous oxide. Proposed electrical inverse-square law (1767).

C.W. Scheele(1742–1786)

Discovered chlorine, tartaric acid, metal oxidation, and sensitivity of silver compounds to light (photochemistry).

Nicholas Le Blanc (1742–1806)

Invented process for making soda ash from sodium sulfate, limestone, and coal.

A.L. Lavoisier (1743–1794)

Discovered nitrogen. Described the composition of many organic compounds. Sometimes regarded as the Father of Chemistry.

A. Volta (1745–1827)

Invented the electric battery.

C.L. Berthollet (1748–1822)

Corrected Lavoiser’s theory of acids. Discovered bleaching ability of chlorine. Analyzed combining weights of atoms (stoichiometry).

Edward Jenner (1749-1823)

Development of smallpox vaccine (1776).

Benjamin Franklin (1752)

Demonstrated that lightning is electricity.

John Dalton (1766–1844)

Proposed atomic theory based on measurable masses (1807). Stated law of partial pressure of gasses.

Amedeo Avogadro (1776–1856)

Proposed principle that equal volumes of gasses contain the same number of molecules.

Sir Humphry Davy (1778–1829)

Laid foundation of electrochemistry. Studied electrolysis of salts in water. Isolated sodium and potassium.

J.L. Gay-Lussac (1778–1850)

Discovered boron and iodine. Discovered acid-base indicators (litmus). Improved method for making sulfuric acid. Researched behavior of gasses.

J.J. Berzelius (1779–1850)

Classified minerals according to their chemical composition. Discovered and isolated many elements (Se, Th, Si, Ti, Zr). Coined the terms 'isomer' and 'catalyst'.

Charles Coulomb (1795)

Introduced the inverse-square law of electrostatics.

Michael Faraday (1791–1867)

Coined term 'electrolysis'. Developed theories of electrical and mechanical energy, corrosion, batteries, and electrometallurgy. Faraday was not a proponent of atomism.

Count Rumford (1798)

Thought that heat was a form of energy.

Early- to Mid-1800s

The 1800s saw the synthesis of the first organic compound, vulcanization of rubber, the invention of dynamite, the creation of the Periodic Table, the pasteurization of milk and wine, and even the invention of a new way of manufacturing aluminum, among other developments.

F. Wohler (1800–1882)

First synthesis of an organic compound (urea, 1828).

Charles Goodyear (1800–1860)

Discovered vulcanization of rubber (1844). Hancock in England made a parallel discovery.

Thomas Young (1801)

Demonstrated the wave nature of light and the principle of interference.

J. von Liebig (1803–1873)

Investigated photosynthesis reaction and soil chemistry. First proposed the use of fertilizers. Discovered chloroform and cyanogen compounds.

Hans Oersted (1820)

Observed that a current in a wire can deflect a compass needle - provided first concrete evidence of the connection between electricity and magnetism.

Thomas Graham (1822–1869)

Studied diffusion of solutions through membranes. Established foundations of colloid chemistry.

Louis Pasteur (1822–1895)

First recognition of bacteria as disease-causing agents. Developed field of immunochemistry. Introduced heat-sterilization of wine and milk (pasteurization). Saw optical isomers (enantiomers) in tartaric acid.

William Sturgeon (1823)

Invented the electromagnet.

Sadi Carnot (1824)

Analyzed heat engines.

Simon Ohm (1826)

Stated law of electrical resistance.

Robert Brown (1827)

Discovered Brownian motion.

Joseph Lister (1827–1912)

Initiated use of antiseptics in surgery, e.g., phenols, carbolic acid, cresols.

A. Kekulé (1829–1896)

Father of aromatic chemistry. Realized four-valent carbon and structure of benzene ring. Predicted isomeric substitutions (ortho-, meta-, para-).

Alfred Nobel (1833–1896)

Invented dynamite, smokeless powder, and blasting gelatin. Established international awards for achievements in chemistry, physics, and medicine (Nobel Prize).

Dmitri Mendeléev (1834–1907)

Discovered periodicity of the elements. Compiled the first Periodic Table with elements arranged into 7 groups (1869).

J.W. Hyatt (1837–1920)

Invented the plastic Celluloid (nitrocellulose modified using camphor)(1869).

Sir W.H. Perkin (1838–1907)

Synthesized first organic dye (mauveine, 1856) and first synthetic perfume (coumarin).

F.K. Beilstein (1838–1906)

Compiled Handbuchder organischen Chemie, a compendium of the properties and reactions of organics.

Josiah W. Gibbs (1839–1903)

Stated three principal laws of thermodynamics. Described the nature of entropy and established a relation between chemical, electric, and thermal energy.

H. Chardonnet (1839–1924)

Produced a synthetic fiber (nitrocellulose).

James Joule (1843)

Experimentally demonstrated that heat is a form of energy.

L. Boltzmann (1844–1906)

Developed kinetic theory of gasses. Viscosity and diffusion properties are summarized in Boltzmann’s Law.

W.K. Roentgen (1845–1923)

Discovered x-radiation (1895). Nobel Prize in 1901.

Lord Kelvin (1838)

Described the absolute zero point of temperature.

James Joule (1849)

Published results from experiments showing that heat is a form of energy.

H.L. Le Chatelier (1850–1936)

Fundamental research on equilibrium reactions (Le Chatelier’s Law), combustion of gasses, and iron and steel metallurgy.

H. Becquerel (1851–1908)

Discovered radioactivity of uranium (1896) and deflection of electrons by magnetic fields and gamma rays. Nobel Prize in 1903 (with the Curies).

H. Moisson (1852–1907)

Developed electric furnace for making carbides and purifying metals. Isolated fluorine (1886). Nobel Prize in 1906.

Emil Fischer (1852–1919)

Studied sugars, purines, ammonia, uric acid, enzymes, nitric acid. Pioneer research in sterochemistry. Nobel Prize in 1902.

Sir J.J. Thomson (1856–1940)

Research on cathode rays proved existence of electrons (1896). Nobel Prize in 1906.

J. Plucker (1859)

Built one of the first gas discharge tubes (cathode ray tubes).

James Clerk Maxwell (1859)

Described the mathematical distribution of the velocities of molecules of a gas.

Svante Arrhenius (1859–1927)

Researched rates of reaction versus temperature (Arrhenius equation) and electrolytic dissociation. Nobel Prize in 1903.

Hall, Charles Martin (1863–1914)

Invented method of manufacturing aluminum by the electrochemical reduction of alumina. Parallel discovery by Heroult in France.

Late 1800s-1900s

From the development of the first synthetic resin to discoveries about the nature of radiation and the development of penicillin, this period produced many scientific milestones.

Leo H. Baekeland (1863–1944)

Invented phenolformaldehyde plastic (1907). Bakelite was the first completely synthetic resin.

Walther Hermann Nernst (1864–1941)

Nobel Prize in 1920 for work in thermochemistry. Performed basic research in electrochemistry and thermodynamics.

A. Werner (1866–1919)

Introduced concept of coordination theory of valence (complex chemistry). Nobel Prize in 1913.

Marie Curie (1867–1934)

With Pierre Curie, discovered and isolated radium and polonium (1898). Studied radioactivity of uranium. Nobel Prize in 1903 (with Becquerel) in physics; in chemistry 1911.

F. Haber (1868–1924)

Synthesized ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen, the first industrial fixation of atmospheric nitrogen (the process was further developed by Bosch). Nobel Prize 1918.

Lord Kelvin (1874)

Stated the second law of thermodynamics.

Sir Ernest Rutherford (1871–1937)

Discovered that uranium radiation is composed of positively charged 'alpha' particles and negatively charged 'beta' particles (1989/1899). First to prove radioactive decay of heavy elements and to perform a transmutation reaction (1919). Discovered half-life of radioactive elements. Established that the nucleus was small, dense, and positively charged. Assumed that electrons were outside the nucleus. Nobel Prize in 1908.

James Clerk Maxwell (1873)

Proposed that electric and magnetic fields filled space.

G.J. Stoney (1874)

Proposed that electricity consisted of discrete negative particles he named 'electrons'.

Gilbert N. Lewis (1875–1946)

Proposed electron-pair theory of acids and bases.

F.W. Aston (1877–1945)

Pioneer research on isotope separation by mass spectrograph. Nobel Prize 1922.

Sir William Crookes (1879)

Discovered that cathode rays travel in straight lines, impart a negative charge, are deflected by electric and magnetic fields (indicating negative charge), cause glass to fluoresce, and cause pinwheels in their path to spin (indicating mass).

Hans Fischer (1881–1945)

Research on porphyrins, chlorophyll, carotene. Synthesized hemin. Nobel Prize in 1930.

Irving Langmuir (1881–1957)

Research in the fields of surface chemistry, monomolecular films, emulsion chemistry, electric discharges in gasses, cloud seeding. Nobel Prize in 1932.

Hermann Staudinger (1881–1965)

Studied high-polymer structure, catalytic synthesis, polymerization mechanisms. Nobel Prize in 1963.

Sir Alexander Flemming (1881–1955)

Discovered the antibiotic penicillin (1928). Nobel Prize in 1945.

E. Goldstein (1886)

Used cathode ray tube to study 'canal rays', which possessed electrical and magnetic properties opposite those an electron.

Heinrich Hertz (1887)

Discovered the photoelectric effect.

Henry G.J. Moseley (1887–1915)

Discovered the relation between the frequency of the x-rays emitted by an element and its atomic number (1914). His work led to the reorganization of the periodic table based on an atomic number rather than atomic mass.

Heinrich Hertz (1888)

Discovered radio waves.

Roger Adams (1889–1971)

Industrial research on catalysis and methods of structural analysis.

Thomas Midgley (1889–1944)

Discovered tetraethyl lead and it used as an antiknock treatment for gasoline (1921). Discovered fluorocarbon refrigerants. Performed early research on synthetic rubber.

Vladimir N. Ipatieff (1890?–1952)

Research and development of catalytic alkylation and isomerisation of hydrocarbons (together with Herman Pines).

Sir Frederick Banting (1891–1941)

Isolated the insulin molecule. Nobel Prize in 1923.

Sir James Chadwick (1891–1974)

Discovered the neutron (1932). Nobel Prize in 1935.

Harold C. Urey (1894-1981)

One of the leaders of the Manhattan Project. Discovered deuterium. Nobel Prize 1934.

Wilhelm Roentgen (1895)

Discovered that certain chemicals near a cathode ray tube glowed. Found highly penetrating rays that were not deflected by a magnetic field, which he named 'x-rays'.

Henri Becquerel (1896)

While studying effects of x-rays on photographic film, he discovered that some chemicals spontaneously decompose and emit very penetrating rays.

Wallace Carothers (1896–1937)

Synthesized neoprene (polychloroprene) and nylon (polyamide).

Thomson, Joseph J. (1897)

Discovered the electron. Used a cathode ray tube to experimentally determine the charge to mass ratio of an electron. Found that 'canal rays' were associated with the proton H+.

Plank, Max (1900)

Stated radiation law and Planck's constant.

Soddy (1900)

Observed spontaneous disintegration of radioactive elements into 'isotopes' or new elements, described 'half-life', made calculations of the energy of decay.

George B. Kistiakowsky (1900–1982)

Devised the detonating device used in the first atomic bomb.

Werner K. Heisenberg (1901–1976)

Developed the orbital theory of chemical bonding. Described atoms using a formula related to the frequencies of spectral lines. Stated the Uncertainty Principle (1927). Nobel Prize in 1932.

Enrico Fermi (1901-1954)

First to achieve a controlled nuclear fission reaction (1939/1942). Performed fundamental research on subatomic particles. Nobel Prize in 1938.

Nagaoka (1903)

Postulated a 'Saturnian' atom model with flat rings of electrons revolving about a positively charged particle.

Abegg (1904)

Discovered that inert gasses have a stable electron configuration which results in their chemical inactivity.

Hans Geiger (1906)

Developed an electrical device which made an audible 'click' when hit with alpha particles.

Ernest O. Lawrence (1901–1958)

Invented the cyclotron, which was used to create the first synthetic elements. Nobel Prize in 1939.

Wilard F. Libby (1908–1980)

Developed carbon-14 dating technique. Nobel Prize in 1960.

Ernest Rutherford and Thomas Royds (1909)

Demonstrated that alpha particles are doubly ionized helium atoms.

Niels Bohr (1913)

Devised quantum model of the atom in which atoms had orbital shells of electrons.

Robert Milliken (1913)

Experimentally determined the charge and mass of an electron using an oil drop.

F.H.C Crick (1916–2004) with James D. Watson

Described the structure of the DNA molecule (1953).

Robert W. Woodward (1917-1979)

Synthesized many compounds, including cholesterol, quinine, chlorophyll, and cobalamin. Nobel Prize in 1965.

F.W. Aston (1919)

Use a mass spectrograph to demonstrate the existence of isotopes.

Louis de Broglie (1923)

Described the particle/wave duality of electrons.

Werner Heisenberg (1927)

Stated the quantum uncertainty principle. Described atoms using a formula based on the frequencies of spectral lines.

John Cockcroft, Ernest Walton (1929)

Constructed a linear accelerator and bombarded lithium with protons to produce alpha particles.

Erwin Schodinger (1930)

Described electrons as continuous clouds. Introduced 'wave mechanics' to mathematically describe the atom.

Paul Dirac (1930)

Proposed anti-particles and discovered the anti-electron (positron) in 1932. (Segre/Chamberlain detected the anti-proton in 1955).

James Chadwick (1932)

Discovered the neutron.

Carl Anderson (1932)

Discovered the positron.

Wolfgang Pauli (1933)

Proposed the existence of neutrinos as a means of accounting for what appeared to be a violation of the law of conservation of energy in some nuclear reactions.

Enrico Fermi (1934)

Formulated his theory of beta decay.

Lise Meitner, Otto Hahn, Fritz Strassmann (1938)

Verified that heavy elements capture neutrons to form fisionable unstable products in a process which ejects more neutrons, thus continuing the chain reaction. that heavy elements capture neutrons to form fisionable unstable products in a process which ejects more neutrons, thus continuing the chain reaction.

Glenn Seaborg (1941–1951)

Synthesized several transuranium elements and suggested a revision to the layout of the periodic table.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Chemistry Timeline." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2023, April 5). Chemistry Timeline. Retrieved from Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Chemistry Timeline." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).