Mercury, be it the element or the planet, is quite elusive when it comes to its discoverer. But at least, as far as who discovered mercury the element is concerned, there’s a name worth mentioning.
The First Unnamed Discoverers
The Babylonians, among the first people groups of early civilization, is credited to be the first to put on record the use of the element mercury. This was some 3000 years ago when it was mixed freely with other products. It was then sometimes added in creams and ointments in dangerous proportions because it was not yet known then as a chemical element. At times poisoning was the result. The discovery of mercury as an element was in the 18th century.
Incidentally, at about the same time, also 3000 years ago, the Sumerians discovered the planet Mercury. Like the Babylonians who discovered mercury and put in many records but not as an element, the Sumerians recorded the planet mercury quite a lot. It could be said that both element and planet had probably started to be noted or observed during the same period. Unfortunately, the discovery of mercury by a single individual was not recorded. Thus, today, Science cannot pinpoint who discovered mercury specifically.
Ancient China was also aware of the presence of mercury, as did the Egyptians, and much later, the Romans. Huang Qin, an emperor of China, was not the man who discovered mercury. But he was among those who discovered too late the deadly effect of the element when ingested. He was killed when he took a mixture of alcohol and jade mercury powder. This concoction was said to give eternal life. Instead, it caused liver failure in Qin, brain damage, and poisoning. This discovery of mercury in China as a lethal substance was tragic.
A. L. Lavoisier
The great French chemist, Antoinne-Laurent de Lavoisier, the father of modern Chemistry, was not the man who discovered mercury either. However, he is worth mentioning here because of his great contribution to Chemistry, specifically to the discovery of mercury as a chemical element. This was in the 18th century. Later, due to this discovery, Paracelsus used it in small amounts to make medicine.
Lavoisier made the first comprehensive list of chemical elements, and it was probably in this work that he classified mercury as a chemical element and a poisonous one. He discovered many other chemical properties and Chemistry principles. However, due to certain corruption charged against him, he was beheaded in the French Revolution.