THEY STARTED WITH FOUR: earth, air, fire, and water. From these basics, they sought to understand the essential ingredients of the world. Those who could see further, those who understood that the four were just the beginning, were the last sorcerers -- and the world's first chemists.
What we now call chemistry began in the fiery cauldrons of mystics and sorcerers seeking not to make a better world through science, but rather to make themselves richer through magic formulas and con games. Yet among these early magicians, frauds, and con artists were a few far-seeing "alchemists" who used the trial and error of rigorous experimentation to transform mysticism into science.
Scientific historians generally credit the great 18th century French chemist Antoine Lavoisier with modernizing the field of chemistry. Others would follow his lead, carefully examining, measuring, and recording their findings. One hundred years later, another pioneer emerged. Dimitri Mendeleev, an eccentric genius who cut his flowing hair and beard but once a year, finally brought order to the chemical sciences when he constructed the first Periodic Table in the late 1800s.
But between and after Lavoisier and Mendeleev were a host of other colorful, brilliant scientists who made their mark on the field of chemistry.