Origin of Name Tungsten

Origin of the Tungsten Name

The origins of the name "tungsten" can be traced back to the Swedish language and its connection to the heavy, tungsten-containing minerals. The element's alternate name, Wolfram, is linked to the mineral Wolframite and its Germanic origins.

What does the name tungsten mean?

A look back at the history of tungsten tells us the name "tungsten" has its roots in the Swedish language, where it translates to "heavy stone." The word 'tungsten' is a combination of two Swedish words - 'tung', meaning 'heavy', and 'sten', meaning 'stone'. This naming convention provides a nod towards the properties of tungsten as an element, which is renowned for its high density and hardness.

This name refers to the relatively high density of tungsten compared to other metals and elements. Tungsten has a density of 19.3 g/cm3 which is comparable to that of gold and almost twice as dense as lead.

Origin of the word tungsten

This name was derived from the old Swedish name for a known tungsten-containing mineral. The element's chemical symbol, W, comes from its earlier Germanic name, Wolfram. The name Wolfram is derived from the mineral Wolframite, in which tungsten was discovered. “Tungsten" also maintains its origins in the discovery of another important tungsten ore, now called Scheelite.

Tungsten was first identified as a new element in 1781 and was later isolated as a metal in 1783. Its important ores include Scheelite and Wolframite, with the latter lending the element its alternate name. The name "Wolframite" itself is derived from the German "wolf rahm" ("wolf soot") or "wolf cream"), which was given to tungsten by Johan Gottschalk Wallerius in 1747.

What was tungsten originally called?

Tungsten was originally known as wolfram. The name "wolfram" originated from the mineral wolframite, which is one of the main ores of tungsten. The word "wolfram" itself has an interesting history. It comes from the Swedish words "wolf" (meaning wolf) and "ram" (meaning foam), referring to the difficulties miners faced when extracting tungsten from the ore.

tungsten symbol

Did tungsten used to be called Wolfram?

Throughout history the name "wolfram" was widely used in Europe until the 18th century when another name started gaining popularity. This new name was "tungsten," which comes from the Swedish words "tung" (meaning heavy) and "sten" (meaning stone). The name "tungsten" was given due to the metal's high density, making it one of the heaviest elements known at the time.

The Story of Wolframite and Wolfram

Wolframite is a mineral containing iron, manganese, and tungsten. It was named after the element tungsten, which was known in German as wolfram. The word wolfram means "wolf's foam" in German, referring to the mineral eating up tin like a wolf during processing. Wolframite was first discovered in the Ore Mountains, a mining region between Germany and the Czech Republic. This region produced large quantities of tin, and wolframite was often found consuming the tin.

German chemists preferred the name wolfram from the original wolframite mineral. This has led to tungsten's alternate name of wolfram used in many European languages.

For centuries, wolframite was the main ore used to obtain tungsten metal. The mineral was highly valued for its tungsten content and mined extensively in Europe. During World War II, wolframite mining was of strategic importance because tungsten was used to harden steel for armor and munitions. Germany obtained most of its industrial tungsten from mines in the Ore Mountains region. Even today, wolframite remains one of the primary natural sources of tungsten.

The Element Wolfram: Origin of the Name

The name "wolfram" has its origins in medieval Germanic languages. It comes from the words "wolf" and "rahm" meaning "wolf soot" or "wolf cream". This name was given to the element tungsten by Johan Gottschalk Wallerius in 1747, referring to the mineral wolframite from which tungsten was first isolated.

The history behind the discovery and naming of tungsten is fascinating. In the late 18th century, German miners came across an unusual heavy mineral, which they called wolframite. However, they were puzzled to find that this mineral did not contain any of the valuable metals they knew of, like tin or silver. Instead, it contained a previously unknown element, which they called "wolfram" after the deceiving mineral. The name stuck, and wolfram became the common German name for the element we now know as tungsten.

Over time, the moniker 'wolfram' stuck, and the mineral became known as wolframite. The name 'wolfram', translating to 'wolf foam', thus pays homage to the early miners' experience with this mineral.

Despite the initial frustration that wolframite caused the tin miners of the Middle Ages, its discovery paved the way for the identification of tungsten, hidden within its structures, and the subsequent exploration of this remarkable element's properties.

It's fascinating to note how early encounters with this mineral have shaped our understanding and utilization of tungsten today. From being considered a nuisance, wolframite is now a highly valued mineral, thanks to the precious tungsten it contains. As we'll discuss in future sections, the journey from wolframite to tungsten is both intriguing and enlightening, demonstrating how scientific progress can transform our perception and use of natural resources.

Tungsten Element Name: An Original Story

For all the historical developments of tungsten, the history of tungsten's name is as intriguing as the element itself. While we know it as tungsten, it is also referred to as 'Wolfram' in many parts of the world. This dual naming has its roots in the element's discovery and early use, which we will explore as we delve deeper into the fascinating journey of how tungsten got its name.

The Dual Naming of Tungsten: Wolfram vs Tungsten

The element we know as tungsten has a unique history, being one of the few elements that have two names in use worldwide: tungsten and wolfram. This duality is not accidental but rather a result of its intriguing discovery and historical usage.

The origins of this dual naming stem from the different regions where the element was discovered and used. The term 'Tungsten' itself came from the Swedish words 'tung sten', translating to 'heavy stone'. This name was initially used by A. F. Cronstedt in 1755 to refer to the mineral Scheelite, which is a natural form of calcium tungstate. It is interesting to note that before its true nature was discovered, this mineral was generally regarded as containing tin.

On the other hand, the term 'Wolfram' derives from the mineral wolframite, from which the element was first isolated. The word 'wolframite' means 'the devourer of tin', relating to how the mineral interferes with the smelting of tin.

The Origin of Tungsten's Symbol, W

The symbol for tungsten on the periodic table is 'W', which may seem puzzling since there isn’t a 'W' in the word 'tungsten'. This symbol, however, links back to the element’s other name, wolfram. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) acknowledged the historical significance of the name 'wolfram' by assigning tungsten the symbol 'W', despite officially naming the element tungsten

This decision was met with controversy, particularly from Spanish chemists who preferred the term 'wolfram'. This controversy highlights an English language bias within the IUPAC, as the organization primarily uses English nomenclature for elements and compounds.

Intriguingly, this dual naming and the element's symbol 'W' provide a fascinating glimpse into the complex history of tungsten, showcasing how language, geography, and scientific traditions can influence the way we understand and name the world around us.

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) formally adopted W as the standard chemical symbol for tungsten. While both tungsten and wolfram are still used as names for the element, particularly in different languages, the symbol W is widely recognized and used in the global scientific community.

The Role of Wolframite in the Naming of Tungsten

In our exploration of the fascinating history behind the name 'tungsten', we cannot overlook the crucial role played by a mineral called 'wolframite'. Not only is wolframite highly valued as the primary source of metal tungsten, but its name also influenced the naming of the element itself.

Wolframite contains tungsten, a dense and robust material with a high melting point, making it ideal for use in electric filaments, armor-piercing ammunition, and hard tungsten carbide machine tools.

The intriguing link between wolframite and the naming of tungsten lies in the process of tin smelting. In this process, wolframite was often found alongside tin, and it interfered with the smelting, consuming large amounts of tin, akin to how a wolf devours a sheep. This phenomenon led to the naming of wolframite, derived from German ""wolf rahm"", which translates into English as "wolf's froth" or "wolf's cream".

This name was given to tungsten by Johan Gottschalk Wallerius in 1747. The connection between the names 'wolframite' and 'tungsten' is thus deeply rooted in the historical extraction process.

The Official Naming of Tungsten by IUPAC

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) plays a critical role in the standardization of chemical element names. This organization was responsible for the official naming of tungsten, an intriguing process that involved various considerations and debates.

The decision-making process by IUPAC was not simple. It required careful deliberation and review of the historical and scientific significance of potential names. The name 'tungsten,' which is derived from the old Swedish name for 'heavy stone', was widely used in the English-speaking world, while 'wolfram' was favored in most European languages, especially among Germanic, Spanish, and Slavic speakers. The latter originates from the mineral wolframite, the major source of tungsten ore and also the origin of the chemical symbol 'W'.

After extended discussions, IUPAC officially chose 'tungsten' as the name for this chemical element, symbol W, and atomic number 74. This decision was influenced partly by the prevalence of the term 'tungsten' in English, French, and many other languages.

Resistance to the Decision

However, the decision to favor 'tungsten' over 'wolfram' was met with resistance, particularly from Spanish chemists. The Spanish brothers, Juan José and Fausto D’Elhuyar who were the first to prepare elementary tungsten, had used the term 'wolfram.' They argued that their original terminology should be honored in the official naming of the element.

The opposition was rooted in the historical discovery and early use of tungsten. Spanish scientists were at the forefront of tungsten research during its early history, and the name 'wolfram' was deeply embedded in their scientific literature and practices. However, despite these arguments, IUPAC maintained its decision to officially name the element tungsten.

Thus, the process of formally naming tungsten was a complex journey involving international debate and historical consideration. This fascinating tale underscores the importance of language and culture in scientific nomenclature, revealing that the names we give to elements are more than mere labels. They carry the weight of history, discovery, and linguistic diversity, making them rich sources of knowledge and intrigue.

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