What year should I cite for the origin of Dalton's atomic theory?

When did Dalton come up with Dalton's Atomic Theory? What year should I put it under on a timeline?
Lauren 9/19/99

Dalton's paper On the Absorption of Gases by Water and Other Liquids includes Dalton's first table of 21 relative atomic and compound weights, which is the essential cornerstone of his atomic theory [1]. Dalton read the paper before the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester on October 21, 1803.

Dalton biographer Elizabeth Patterson notes that the first entry about atoms in Dalton's notebooks is dated Sept. 6, 1803 [2]. Dalton was investigating the physics of gases rather than chemical reactions and compound stoichiometries at that time . His explanations employ a definite atomic model by late 1803, and Dalton himself reminisced in 1835:

    "...Nitrous oxyde is composed of two particles of azote and one of oxygen. This was one of my earliest atoms. I determined it in 1803, after long and patient consideration and reasoning. Chemistry began then to assume a new appearance."

Dalton's atomic hypothesis was published in complete form in his 1808 book A New System of Chemical Philosophy, which also included hypotheses about heat as a fluid and about simple compound stoichiometries that were shown to be incorrect a few years later.


  1. Selected Classic Papers from the History of Chemistry, Carmen Giunta, Lemoyne College (1999). URL: http://MAPLE.lemoyne.edu/~giunta/papers.html
  2. John Dalton and the Atomic Theory: The Biography of a Natural Philosopher, Elizabeth C. Patterson, Doubleday, New York, 1970, chapter VI.

Related pages

John Dalton (General Chemistry Online!)
A brief summary of Dalton's atomic theory.
http://antoine.fsu.umd.edu/chem/senese/101/atoms/dalton.shtml (10/17/98)

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Author: Fred Senese senese@antoine.frostburg.edu

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