Chemical Element: tungsten

(Modern Latin: from Swedish, tung sten, "heavy stone"; the symbol is from German Wolfram;, named for the tungsten mineral wolframite; metal)

Chemical-Element Information

Symbol: W
Atomic number: 74
Year discovered: 1783

Discovered by: Don Fausto d’Elhuyar de Suvisa (1755-1833), Spanish chemist and mineralogist; and brother, Juan José d’Elhuyar (1788-182l), Spanish chemist and mineralogist.

  • The word “tungsten” may have been used first by A. F. Cronstedt, in 1755, who applied it to the calcium tungstate mineral subsequently known as scheelite.
  • In 1781, C. W. Scheele found that the mineral was a compound of lime with a previously unknown acid which he called tungstic acid.
  • During the same year, T. Bergman concluded that it should be possible to prepare a metal from the acid.
  • In 1783, two Spanish brothers, J. J. and F. d’Elhuyar, both of whom had studied mineralogy and chemistry at the Freiburg School of Mines, and one of whom (J. J.) had studied in Bergman’s laboratory at Uppsala, found that another mineral, wolframite, contained the same tungstic acid found in scheelite.
  • They were also the first to record the preparation of tungsten metal, which they made by reducing tungstic oxide with charcoal, which they called, “wolfram”.
  • The origin of the word wolfram is obscure.
  • The earliest mention of “wolfram” in literature was made by Lazarus Ercker in 1574.
  • Its spelling has gone through many modifications including wolfert, wolfrig, wolferam, wolfram, wolframit, and wolframicum.
  • In 1820, A. Breithaupt adopted the word wolframite for the mineral containing the tungstate of iron and manganese.
  • The preferred British and American usage is “tungsten” for the metal, whereas in Germany and a number of other European countries, “wolfram” is the accepted form.
  • Tungsten used to be known as “wolfram” (from wolframite, said to be named from “wolf rahm” or “spumi lupi”, because the ore interfered with the smelting of tin and appeared to devour the tin).
  • Although preceded by several helpful discoveries, a second development of exceptional importance in tungsten technology was that of cemented tungsten carbide in 1923 by K. Schröter in Germany.
  • The succeeding developments in carbide tools resulted in a small revolution in the machine tool industry.
  • The late 1950’s marked the beginning of the development of tungsten as a space technology material, notably for the throat sections of rocket engine nozzles.
  • Another application of tungsten is the shock-resisting steels, also known as tungsten chisel steels that contain approximately two percent tungsten and 0.50 percent carbon with small amounts of silicon, chromium, and vanadium.
  • These steels are oil hardening and have high resistance to shock, fatigue, and wear.
  • They are particularly well adapted for tools such as pneumatic chisels, heavy duty punches, and for hot work applications where considerable shock is involved.

Name in other languages:

French: tungsténe

German: Wolfram

Italian: tungsteno (wolframio)

Spanish: wolframio

Information about other elements may be seen at this Chemical Elements List.

A special unit about words that include chemo-, chem- may be seen here.