Phlogiston

A triumph of experiment over dogma.

Heat a metal in air: what you get is the metal in oxidised state –
But this oxide weighs more than the metal! It set off a classic debate:
“A metal contains some Phlogiston1,” declared Stahl2 around 1708,
“And Phlogiston has positive lightness, that is, it has negative weight”.

“Not so,” said the great Joseph Priestly3. “I heated up mercury oxide
And its gas kept alive a small mouse which would otherwise surely have died.”
He told the French chemist, Lavoisier4 who, in 1775,
Said “Out with that rascal Phlogiston: ’twas Oxygen kept mousey alive!”

  1. It was also said to be colourless, odourless and tasteless
  2. Georg Ernst Stahl, 1659–1734: German chemist, physician and philosopher
  3. Joseph Priestly, 1733–1804: English Unitarian minister, political theorist, and physical scientist
  4. Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, 1743–1794: French nobleman, philosopher and chemist
Images: Wikipedia (Stahl and Priestly); Johm Carroll University (Lavoisier)

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