Chemical Element: lead, plumbum, Pb

(Anglo-Saxon: lead; the symbol is from the Latin plumbum, "lead")

Chemical-Element Information

Symbol: Pb
Atomic number: 82
Year discovered: Prehistoric

Discovered by: Unknown.

  • Lead has been known for ages and is mentioned in Exodus (The Old Testament Bible).
  • Coins or medallions of lead are found in ancient Egyptian ruins and it seems probable that the extraction of lead from its ores by smelting was the first such practice recognized by man.
  • During Roman civilization, the use of lead was widespread for both utilitarian and ornamental purposes.
  • Many examples of lead water pipe, still in serviceable condition, have been discovered in Roman ruins; and ornamental casting of lead 2000 years old are not uncommon in several parts of the world.
  • Lead pipes, bearing the insignia of Roman emperors and used as drains from the baths, are still in service.
  • Alchemists believed lead to be the oldest metal and associated it with the planet Saturn.
  • They spent a lot of time trying to “transmute” lead into gold.
  • Lead is a bluish-white lustrous metal.
  • It is very soft, highly malleable, ductile, and a relatively poor conductor of electricity.
  • It is very resistant to corrosion but tarnishes upon exposure to air.
  • Alloys include pewter and solder.
  • Tetraethyl lead is still used in some grades of gasoline but it is being phased out because of environmental-pollution problems.
  • Lead is considered the fifth most important metal, exceeded only by iron, copper, aluminum, and zinc.
  • The metallurgy of this metal is so interrelated with other elements that both its production rate and market price are influenced to a large degree by the supply and demand of several related elements, among which are zinc, silver, copper, gold, bismuth, and antimony.

Name in other languages:

French: plomb

German: Blei

Italian: piombo

Spanish: plomo

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.