This question already has an answer here:

I have browsed through many questions on this site but I still don't understand this:

How chemists in the past used to determine the weight of substances (which I believe they randomly called elements or compounds) without using modern techniques?

For example ... we know the molecular formula of water is $\ce{H2O}$

But how did chemists determine the composition of water?

How did they know hydrogen and oxygen, and not some other substance, made water and how could they determine the weight according to which combined?

What was the complete procedure behind it?

EDIT: Just like I said.... That answer still doesn't show us the complete picture... Moreover, the answerer has used phrases like (I don't know) and (Maybe) many times....


marked as duplicate by paracetamol, Todd Minehardt, pentavalentcarbon, Jon Custer, airhuff May 30 '17 at 17:51

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • $\begingroup$ also chemistry.stackexchange.com/questions/15386/… $\endgroup$ – Mithoron May 30 '17 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Mithoron...How did Chemists know they were burning Hydrogen and Oxygen and not something else? Moreover the answer in the duplicate question doesn't tell us How was the amount of Oxygen determined? That answer ,literally, doesn't tell us anything $\endgroup$ – user35508 May 30 '17 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Mithoron Could you please remove the duplicate tag? I think you don't completely understand my point... $\endgroup$ – user35508 May 30 '17 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Mithoron Imagine yourself in that era , Could you possibly explain how gases being burned made something liquid? Moreover can you even tell there were two gases? How would you isolate them? $\endgroup$ – user35508 May 30 '17 at 13:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Mithoron At least please provide a reply or a reason why my question is not appropriate? $\endgroup$ – user35508 May 30 '17 at 14:01

If you check out the Wikipedia page on Properties of Water, it has a very small history section which says Cavendish (not a chemist, arguably) determined the composition of water in 1781. Then following that lead to Cavendish's article, you'll learn quite a lot, unless you already knew it. As far as us putting "the complete picture" in front of you on a plate, yeah, that's not going to happen. We'd have to know what your background was, and even then what exactly would satisfy your concept of what the "complete" picture was. The up-side is that although satisfying yourself is up to you, the web has a lot of resources you can get help from. When it comes to a lot of scientific, mathematical, and technical subjects, though, you'll have to put in the study (and practice) time to learn and understand it, course work and textbooks will be difficult to replace with unorganized web research. OK, enough philosophy. I encourage you to put together a time-line of alchemy, natural philosophy, and science at around the start of the 19th Century. You probably know that the idea that matter is composed of small indivisible particles (atoms) was first seriously considered by the ancient Greeks, right? And that various technologists have used recipes (based on weights or volumes or both) to repeatedly create (or destroy) various materials of interest, from time immemorial. Alchemists were dedicated transmutation, so what they knew and when they knew it is important here. Proust didn't demonstrate his law of definite proportions until almost 20 years after Cavendish discovered the constituents. So first we knew what it was made of (oxygen and hydrogen, although the concept of elements was not yet firmly established.) And see also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxygen#Early_experiments as well as the following discussion on the Phlogiston theory. Probably the reason you haven't gotten a clear answer here is because this isn't a technical question, it is a historical question. To get a clear complete "picture" you need to literally waste your time learning about all sorts of discredited theories (Phlogiston, and the earlier even more unfortunate Earth, Air, Fire and water "theory") and then learn how the various people overcame the blunders made before them to find the "right" explanations for the world around them. Needless to say, that is an ongoing effort but to recapitulate all of the dead-ends isn't something we're going to do in a short answer, frankly. Anyway, put together a time-line and you'll begin to see how the various strands of the story wove together. HTH.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer....I will try to find whatever I can ...Thanks once again... $\endgroup$ – user35508 May 30 '17 at 14:44

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.