Hennig Brand and the Discovery of Phosphorus


“The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus” by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1771. Public domain

Spoiler alert: Hennig Brand discovered phosphorous by boiling pee. And phosphorous is the first element whose discoverer we can name. But he was really trying to do something else: He thought the secret to the philosopher’s stone might be found in urine.

Tracy's Research:

  • Weeks, Mary Elvira. “Discovery of the Elements.” 6th Edition. Journal of Chemical Education. 1956. Via Archive.org. https://archive.org/details/discoveryoftheel002045mbp/
  • Boyle, Robert. “The Skeptical Chymist.” London. 1661. Via Project Gutenberg. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/22914/22914-h/22914-h.htm
  • Kilian, Petr. “The world is running out of phosphorus. And that's a really bad thing.” Cosmos Magazine. 1/14/2019. https://cosmosmagazine.com/chemistry/the-world-is-running-out-of-phosphorus-and-that-s-a-really-bad-thing
  • Kean, Sam. “Peak Phosphorus?” Distillations. Science History Institute. Fall 2013/Winter 2014. https://www.sciencehistory.org/distillations/magazine/peak-phosphorus
  • "Pot Pourri: At 350 Phosphorus is running out." Chemical Industry Digest, 28 Feb. 2019. Business Collection, https://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A578501799/GPS?u=mlin_n_melpub&sid=GPS&xid=8105e58f. Accessed 3 Apr. 2019.
  • "Hennig Brand." Encyclopedia of World Biography Online, vol. 37, Gale, 2017. U.S. History in Context, https://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/K1631010586/GPS?u=mlin_n_melpub&sid=GPS&xid=26828d5c. Accessed 3 Apr. 2019.
  • "Phosphorus." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science, edited by K. Lee Lerner and Brenda Wilmoth Lerner, 5th ed., vol. 6, Gale, 2014, pp. 3330-3332. General OneFile, https://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3727801859/GPS?u=mlin_n_melpub&sid=GPS&xid=6c798b39. Accessed 3 Apr. 2019.
  • "phosphorus (P)." Britannica Library, Encyclopædia Britannica, 28 Aug. 2017. library.eb.com/levels/referencecenter/article/phosphorus/59785. Accessed 3 Apr. 2019.
  • Savica, Vincenzo. “Between the utility and hazards of phosphorus through the centuries.” Giornale Italiano di Nefrologia. 2016.
  • Schofield, M. “Phases in Phosphorous-Making.” Science Progress (1933-), Vol. 37, No. 148 (OCTOBER, 1949). Via JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/43425914
  • Ashley, K. et al. “A brief history of phosphorus: From the philosopher’s stone to nutrient recovery and reuse.” Chemosphere. 8/4/2011.
  • Ball, Philip. “A lode of Bologna.” Chemistry World. The Royal Society of Chemistry. 11/22/2016. https://www.chemistryworld.com/opinion/solving-the-riddle-of-the-glowing-stones/1017596.article
  • Hooke, Robert. “Philosophical experiments and observations of the late eminent Robert Hooke, and geom. prof. Gresh, and other eminent virtuoso's in his time.” 1726. Via archive.org. https://archive.org/details/bub_gb_I6m4P2H7m2wC
  • Emsley, John. “The 13th Element: The Sordid Tale of Murder, Fire and Phosphorus.” New York. John Wiley & Sons Inc. 2000.
  • Farber, Eduard. “History of Phosphorus.” Contributions from the Museum of History and Technology: Paper 40. Smithsonian Institution. 1966. Via Project Gutenberg. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/33766/33766-h/33766-h.htm

Topics in this Podcast: 17th century, alchemy, offbeat history, science history, European history