Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions, and Discoveries of the 18th Century

By Jonathan Shectman | Go to book overview

P

Phlogiston (or the First Reasonable, Rational
Theory of Chemistry)

Georg Ernst Stahl, 1700

By the time alchemy reached Europe during the Middle Ages, the four elements of the ancient world had dominated chemical thought for nearly a millennium and a half. The alchemists mainly endeavored to turn “base metals” such as lead into “noble metals” such as gold. This idea, known as transmutation, came directly out of the proposal by Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) that each element contained two of the following qualities: heat, cold, moisture and dryness. Fire was hot and dry, air was hot and moist, water was cold and moist, and earth was cold and dry. A cornerstone of this ancient philosophy was that an object could burn because it contained within itself the element of fire. Under just the proper conditions, fire made its dismembering escape and burning ensued.

The alchemists had their own version of the element of fire, which they called the principle of “sulfur.” This was not necessarily the element sulfur, though most alchemists also experimented with it. In 1669, a German alchemist, Johann Joachim Becher (1635–1682), attempted to expand the fire principle idea. Becher divided the four ancient elements into pairs: water and earth were the “important” elements, while he thought air and fire were simply agents of chemical change. Becher knew of the medical alchemist Paracelsus (also called Bombastus von Hohenheim, 1493–1541), who separated philosophical-chemical “matter” into three components: salt (the body), mercury (the spirit), and sulfur (the soul). Becher outlined his own three Earth Principles, which roughly corresponded to these. Salt became terra lapida, the essence of fixity and inertness. Mercury became terra mercurialis, the essence

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Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions, and Discoveries of the 18th Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions and Discoveries through the Ages ii
  • Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions and Discoveries of the 18th Century iii
  • Contents vii
  • Alphabetical List of Entries xi
  • Series Foreword xiii
  • Acknowledgments xvii
  • Introduction xix
  • Timeline of Important Events xxvii
  • Experiments, Inventions and Discoveries 1
  • A 3
  • B 16
  • C 31
  • D 72
  • E 80
  • F 92
  • H 105
  • I 119
  • L 124
  • M 133
  • N 161
  • O 170
  • P 180
  • R 211
  • S 216
  • T 247
  • U 256
  • V 261
  • W 265
  • Appendix: Entries Listed by Scientific Field 281
  • Glossary of Technical Terms 283
  • Bibliography 303
  • Index 311
  • About the Author 319
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