Who Discovered Oxygen?
Posted In: Chemical Elements.
The discovery of oxygen is credited to Carl Wilhelm Scheele and it was made in 1771. This German-Swedish chemist and pharmacist identified and discovered a number of chemicals and elements such as tungsten, molybdenum, chlorine, barium and oxygen. Wilhelm Scheele was born in Germany, which at that time was under the Swedish rule.
The phlogiston theory
Even though carpentry was his family business, he decided to pursue a career in pharmacy. He also worked at various cities in Sweden such has Gothenburg, Stockholm, Uppsala, Köping. He developed an early interest on various gas theories and also had an active interest in the phlogiston theory. The theory stated that when a fire burns, an element called “phlogiston” would be release.
Fire air and foul air
This chemical was said to have a fire-like characteristic. This element was, of course, non-existent and the hypothesis was wrong on several counts but Scheele discovered oxygen based on this hypothesis. His discovery of oxygen started with a number of studies and experiments about air. In 1770, he developed a theory that air consisted of two separate gases. He called these gases “fire air” and “foul air”.
He published his paper on oxygen
To prove his theory, he experimented with a number of elements such potassium nitrate, heavy metal nitrates, manganese dioxide, mercuric oxide, silver carbonate and studied the effects of air when these elements after being burned. All the experiments produced the same result, a unique, unknown gas was released. He successfully isolated the gas and found his “fire air”. This gas was in fact oxygen. Even though he published his findings, “A Chemical Treatise on Air and Fire”, in 1777, other scientists had already published their discovery on oxygen. However, due to his extensive experiments and detailed analysis of the outcome, Carl Wilhelm Scheele is still credited for the discovery of oxygen.