What is the origin and history of the Periodic Table?

We explain the history of the periodic table, what its first version was like, and how it was used to discover chemical elements.

history of the periodic table
The Russian-born chemist Dimitri Mendeleev created the first periodic table.

What is the history of the periodic table?

The periodic table is a graphic and conceptual tool that organizes all the chemical elements known to mankind according to their atomic number (that is, the number of protons in their atomic nucleus) and their other essential chemical properties.

The first version of this conceptual model was published in 1869 in Germany by the Russian-born chemist Dimitri Mendeleev (1834-1907), who had discovered the existence of a recognizable pattern between elements, useful for classifying and organizing them graphically. Its name came from Mendeleev’s hypothesis that atomic weight determined the periodic properties of the elements.

The first periodic table had the 63 elements discovered in six columns by then, and it was universally accepted and celebrated by scholars of the subject. It was considered a noticeable improvement of the first attempts to systematize the elements, proposed by Antoine Lavoisier, or of the first tables created by André-Emile Béguyer de Chancourtois (a “telluric helix”) in 1862, and Julius Lothar Meyer in 1864.

In addition to creating the periodic table, Mendeleev used it as a tool to deduce the necessary existence of elements not yet discovered, a prediction that came true later when many of the elements that filled in the blanks in his table began to be discovered.

However, since then the periodic table has been reconceived and reformulated several times, expanding on the atoms discovered or synthesized later. Mendeleev himself created a second version in 1871. The current structure was designed by the Swiss chemist Alfred Werner (1866-1919) from the original table, and the standard graphic arrangement is attributed to the American chemist Horace Groves Deming.

A new version of the table was presented by the Costa Rican Gil Chaverri (1921-2005) taking into account the electronic structure of the elements, instead of their number of protons. However, the acceptance of the traditional version today is absolute.