1791-1910 Titanium

The book of science

Tom Sharp

Creed, Berlin, Stockholm, TroyWilliam Gregor, Martin Heinrich Klaproth, Jöns Jacob Berzelius, Matthew Hunter elements Titanium


Gregor found a black sand in a streambed attracted by a magnet, which was ilmenite, a titanium-iron oxide mineral, in 1791. Klaproth tested rutile or red schörl, a titanium dioxide mineral, and named the element after the Greek Titans, in 1795. Titanium was difficult to separate, but Berzelius managed to create impure titanium metal, in 1825. Hunter was the first to purify titanium melting titanium chloride with metallic sodium under high pressure in a steel cylinder, in 1910.

Atomic number 22

Corrosion resistant, fatigue resistant, crack resistant, creep resistant, non-toxic and osseointegratable. * Strong and light metal alloys. A permanent white pigment. An ingredient in sunscreens. * Each Boeing 747 has 45 metric tons of titanium. The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is clad with titanium. Hip joint implants use titanium. * Titanium powder or shavings can burn or explode. Burning titanium cannot be extinguished by water or carbon dioxide.


William Gregor found titanium in the mineral ilmenite from the Manaccan valley, thirty miles south of his home at Creed, a hamlet in Cornwall, England. Matthew Hunter taught and worked at Troy, New York, the home of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Is it a myth that particular things have to happen in the places where they happen? Wine, cheese, and people retain the feel of their origins. Salmon return somehow to the streams where they were hatched. When a country wins a war, its people feel that conquest is a natural consequence of their superiority.

The Hunter process for producing titanium is inefficient non-scalable, so production of titanium was confined to the laboratory until William Justin Kroll, in 1940, invented a more complex but scalable process.

For each element, I have tried to establish a place or region where the discovery was made, or, for the prehistorical elements, where earliest evidence of the element has been found. For me, the place is like the terroir of a good wine. But it is sad to see how those early origins have been lost.

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