The existence of argon, element number 18, was hypothesized by British physicist Henry Cavendish in 1785, but was not isolated until 1894, when the 3rd Baron Rayleigh (John William Strutt) and William Ramsay accomplished that task. Rayleigh and Ramsay took the name from the Greek άργός (argos, inactive) as the element is non-reactive.
The discovery and the name were first reported in the Daily News (UK) on 28 December 1894. Rayleigh and Ramsay wrote of their discovery in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society the following year:
The gas deserves the name “argon,” for it is a most astonishingly indifferent body, inasmuch as it is unattacked by elements of very opposite character.1
Until 1957, the chemical symbol for argon was A, taken from first letter of its name. That year the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), which governs official chemical nomenclature, changed it to Ar, the symbol in use today, to bring it in line with the other noble gases, which all have two-letter symbols.
Copyright 1997-2014, by David Wilton