Tag Archive | Sodium

17th December 1778. Elementary.

Ten elements were discovered in antiquity; seventeen more were discovered pre- 1789, then fourteen years later four of the six Platinum Group Metals: Rhodium, Palladium, Iridium Osmium. By the end of the 19th century, forty-seven more were discovered, the remainder plus those synthesised coming in the 20th century.

‘Sir Humphrey Davy abominated gravy, he lived in the odium of having discovered sodium’, a clever Clerihew about Davy the self-taught chemist and pioneer of electro-chemistry, born Today in Penzance, Cornwall in 1778.(1)

Davy used Electrolysis, adding water to cleave chemical bonds with the aid an electric current to separate elements from their compounds. This Used a Voltaic Pile ‘sandwich’ of a damp cardboard disk between two metal disks that generated a weak charge to decompose the alkalis.(2)

His Electrolytic apparatus was simple-a Direct Current battery-connected to metallic electrodes dipped into a liquid containing the compounds Davy wanted to decompose.

In 1807 using this method he isolated the metal Potassium from Caustic Potash, now known as Potassium Hydroxide (KOH), the first to be isolated by electrolysis. Potassium is highly reactive in water, generating sufficient heat to ignite the Hydrogen emitted in the reaction.(3)

He then produced Sodium by electrolysis through molten Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH), caustic soda called Lye (not a plant salt), showing the two elements and salts to be different.(4)

In 1808 Davy isolated Alkaline Earth Metals from several minerals. He extracted Barium baryte, from probably Barium Oxide (BaO); from Lime, Calcium Oxide (CaO) or Quicklime he prepared Calcium. To isolate Strontium he used Strontite, Strontium Oxide (StO), and isolated Magnesium from Magnesia or Magnesium oxide (MgO).

At first he tried to dissolve various compounds in water but this was Electrolysed into Hydrogen and Oxygen leaving the material intact. So he melted the minerals which he alloyed with Mercury before passing a current.

The molten compound bubbled producing small clumps of a silvery metal on one electrode and liberating gaseous Oxygen on the other, the electrodes were inert so didn’t react with the electrolyte.

As well as Boron, Davy also discovered Aluminium Oxide (alumina), initially calling it Alumium then Aluminum, four years later, which the Americans followed, but the British disliked it as not following the ‘ium’ pattern of other elements, and so changed it.

Davy was instrumental in his use of electrolysis to separate compounds into elements, also found a way of reducing corrosion on copper-bottomed ships showing that chemical attraction may be exacted or modified or destroyed by a change in the electrical state of materials.

In Market Jew Street, Penzance there is a full-length marble statue to Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829) sculpted by T. & W. Wills.

(1) Biography for Beginners (1905). E.C. Bentley’s, First Clerihew.

(2) On 2nd October 1798 Davy joined the Pneumatic Institution established for investigating the medical powers of ‘factitious air gases’ and after indifferent schooling and apprenticeship with an apothecary-surgeon at the Pneumatic Centre, Bristol. discovered nitrous oxide (N2O), laughing gas.

(3) Potassium was isolated from potash and is vital to agriculture as a fertilizer, comprising 93% of consumption owing to its quick depletion in intensive farming. Potassium also produces softer soaps.

(4) Sodium compounds are used in glass, metal, paper petroleum, pyrotechnics, soap, textiles, hard soaps and detergents.



Weeks, Mary Elvira (1933) XII The Discovery of the Elements Easton PA Journal of Chemical Education.



29th June 1817 – The Salt of the Earth.

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Sel, poivre and vinaigre, in any language still tastes the same. Photo by Author.


SALT-Religion: Most famous Biblical story relates to Lot’s wife being turned into pillar of salt. ‘The Lord God of Israel gave the Kingdom…to David…by a Covenant of Salt’. Salt appears in Bible over 40 times, including the expression in the Title.

Science: Common salt, the preservative before fridges, comprises the alkali metal Sodium which when combined with the halogen gas, Chlorine, results in the Compound, Sodium Chloride (NaCl).

The number of electrons in an atom of sodium, a constituent of common salt (as with all atoms) equals the number of protons. Sodium has 11 electrons 11 protons and 12 neutrons in its neutral state: Atomic Number is thus 11 and Atomic Weight is 23.


Nostalgia: The Author remembers the name Cerebos Salt on the side of a railway bridge spanning the road near his home.

Who would have thought that the infant John Corbett (1817-1901) baptised Today on the 29th June 1817 at St Michael’s Brierley Hill, would later be the ‘Salt King’ of 19th century industrial Britain. 

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Corbett had built Chateaux Impney, Worcs., and became a local benefactor. His sign was the raven which appeared on his buildings.

It was in 1830 when Fardon, Gossage & Company built a factory on the east side of the Birmingham-Worcester Canal. Thomas Fardon had been a salt maker in Droitwich having factories on an eight acre site at Stoke Prior north east of Droitwich which had been bought from the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral.

In 1835 the Company became British Alkali, which with its 8 acres was one of three salt companies shown on the 1848 Tithe Map. The other two were the  Imperial Salt & Alkali, with 6 acres and the  Imperial Salt & Chemical, with an acre. However by 1850 the ventures hit bad times and the works abandoned.

So in 1851 Imperial Salt & Alkali Works was offered for sale at Auction Mart in London, and this is where John Corbett, the son of Joseph whose canal business had suffered from railway competition, stepped in and on 6th July 1853 concluded an agreement to buy from the Trustees, the British Alkali Company which had been liquidated the previous year.

Two down one to go, for then Corbett obtained a 21 years lease of the Imperial Salt & Chemical Company which lay on the opposite canal bank. It was by these acquisitions at Stoke Prior, that Corbett was to revolutionise English salt production.

In 1888 he sold out to the Salt Union Ltd conglomerate in Cheshire, and elsewhere, for £660,000, which company now held a virtual monopoly in England thus enabling it increase prices and so profitability.

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Stoke Prior Salt Works by Canal.

Moving to the 1930’s The Salt Union from 1937 became part of Imperial Chemical Industries, ICI Salt Ltd, Stoke Prior Salt Works, and ICI Ltd Salt Division from 1.1.1943 until 31.12.1960. However geological problems and cheap imports forced the closure of the works 15.2.1972.

Salt has also a long history in the north-east of England where the salt works in Billingham grew up near the ancient salt track which had Wearmouth to north and Whitby to the south.

And  in 1290 Robert de Brus the grandfather of Robert Bruce King of Scotland granted a salt pan to Sir John Rumundebi formerly held by Adam the Miller at a rental of a pair of white gloves and a penny paid at Easter. Production was by evaporating sea-water. An early account of salt manufacturing at Coatham near Redcar is described BELOW IN NOTES.

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Early Cerebos Logo.The name comes from Ceres Roman god of wheat and os Latin for bone.

Before the 1890’s salt came in blocks, but it was in 1891 that pharmacist George Bowie mixed phosphate and common salt to produce a free-pouring table salt which George Weddell improved on leading to the commercial brand of Cerebos.

Cerebos of Greatham, Stockton-0n-Tees was registered in November 1903, to amalgamate ‘the rights for all countries and to acquire salt works and mines’, and launched Saxa Salt in 1907. In 1968 Cerebos was acquired by Rank McDougal Hovis.

Ref: John Corbett on miac.org.uk/Corbett.htm.found under Fardon & Gossage.

Ref: wikipedia/salt

Ref:wikibooks.org/wiki/high_school_chemistry. High School chemistry/th

See POST of 24th June (alkali earth metals).


‘And as the Tyde comes in yt bringeth a small wash sea-cole which is imployed to the makinge of salte, and as the Fuell of the poore fisher Townes adjoining; the oylie sulpherousness beinge mixed with the Salte of the Sea as yt floweth, and consequently hard to take fyre, or to Keepe in longe with quenching they have a Meanes, by makinge small vaults to passe under the hearthes, into which by foresetting the wynde with a board, they force yt to enter, and soe to serve instead of a payre of bellowes, which they call in a proper worde of Art, a Blowecole’.

Next POST and final one for JUNE, looks at the sea battle of Beachy Head.


Alkali metals from the top of the Group 1 are: Lithium (Li), Sodium (Na), Potassium (K), Rubidium (Rb), Cesium (Cs) and Francium (Fr). They are all very reactive in that they have only one electron in the valence (outer) shell, and are only one away from the ‘Duet Rule’  (of Hydrogen), of two electrons needed in that outer shell. As a result they are keen to bond with another element by losing the electron

For example Sodium gives up its electron with chlorine(Cl), which having seven electrons and keen to complete its outer shell to eight (‘Octet Rule’) which makes it an ideal candidate to pinch the sodium one, resulting in the bonding of both elements.

Thus we get the common salt compound (NaCl) and stability.

Chlorine is a searing halogen gas and is not found in its natural state but only in compounds.