Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier © Stock Montage/Contributor
The first list of fundamental elements was published by Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier in 1789. He listed 33 ‘elements’ that “are the substances we have not discovered means for separating”. His analysis was remarkably good: 26 were true elements, five were oxides of undiscovered metals, and only ‘light’ and ‘heat’ seem odd inclusions today.
However, the relationship between different elements is arguably more important than a simple list. A repeating pattern emerges when elements are listed in their natural order, and this reflects the elegant fundamental laws of nature. Such periodicity came to light gradually during the 19th century, but the ‘Periodic Table’ as we know it today is usually attributed to Dmitri Mendeleyev who presented it to the Russian Chemical Society on 6 March 1869.