From Alchemy to Chemistry:
Five Hundred Years of Rare and Interesting Books

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Rare Book Room Exhibit

DALTON, JOHN (1766 - 1844). A New System of Chemical Philosophy. 3 vols. Manchester, 1808, 1810, 1827.

In this work, Dalton revived the atomic theory of matter, adding to it the key idea that different elements had different characteristic atomic weights. Also present in this work is one of the earliest depictions of molecular structure, in which the atoms in a molecule are arranged in space in a specific fashion. Dalton's chemical atomic theory was the first to give significance to the relative weights of the ultimate particles of all known compounds, and to provide a quantitative explanation of the phenomena of chemical reaction. Dalton believed that all matter was composed of indestructible and indivisible atoms of various weights, each weight corresponding to one of the chemical elements, and that these atoms remained unchanged during chemical processes. Dalton's work with relative atomic weights prompted him to construct the first periodic table of elements (in Vol. 1, pt. 1), to formulate laws concerning their combination and to provide schematic representations of various possible combinations of atoms. His equation of the concepts "atom" and "chemical element" was of fundamental importance, as it provided the chemist with a new and enormously fruitful model of reality. Of the eight copperplates of this work, plate 4 is especially significant since it gives Dalton's symbols for the atoms of various elements and their compounds. On account of these symbols and the theory which they accompany, Dalton is known as the "father of modern chemistry."

Norman Library of Science, 575.

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