The Path to the Periodic Table

The path to the periodic table began early in the 19th century, when John Dalton united the atomic theory of matter, which had existed in various forms since antiquity, with the concept of the chemical element, which had emerged in the late 18th century with the work of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and his followers. On the basis of his newly synthesized theory, Dalton calculated the first relative weights of atoms and compounds. Although the method for calculating atomic weights was disputed for another 50 years, in the long run atomic weights would provide the key means of organizing the elements into the periodic table.

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The Center for Oral History captures and preserves the stories of notable figures in chemistry and related fields, with over 425 oral histories that deal with various aspects of science, of scientists, and of scientific practices. For more information please visit CHF’s Oral History Program or e-mail oralhistory@

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