Hydrogen sulfide is known for its characteristic "rotten eggs" smell. And it is well known to everybody having discovered in 18th century. But who first documented it of having the "rotten egg" smell? Everywhere it is mentioned to have this particular smell, so it became popular and have this term associated to hydrogen sulfide.

I found some information from here:

Perhaps a guardian angel was with him (Carl Wilhelm Scheele) again on the day that he treated ferrous sulfide (pyrite, or fool’s gold) with a mineral acid. He called the rank odor that resulted Schwefelluft (sulfur air) and referred to it as stinkende (stinking or fetid). Today we refer to the odor as that of rotten eggs.

It didn't mentioned who referred this odor for the first time.


1 Answer 1


Tracing the origins or assigning the first attributes of gas properties is difficult. However, a Dutch PhD thesis from 1860s sheds some light on this topic. Gratama, Koenraad Wolter. Geschiedkundig onderzoek naar de kennis der zwavelmetalen. Vol. 1. Greven, 1866. The identity of F. Hoffmann of 1722 was even trickier! The original source is in Latin "Friderici Hoffmanni: Observationum physico-chemicarum selectiorum libri III ."

Ofschoon de ontwikkeling van zwavelwaterstof reeds moet opgemerkt zijn bij de bereiding van lac sulphuris, wordt evenwel van den eigenaardigen reuk eerst later gesproken. Eerst in 1722 zegt Hoffmann bij de bereiding van zwavelmelk: „sulphur solvitur facile in lixivio, et cum acido summo cum foetore, wie faule Eier, in pulverem lividum praecipitatur." De eigenschap, van zilver zwart te maken, wordt eerst door Libavius (1595), en naderhand door meer andere schrijvers vermeld. Men noemde het gas toen zwavelleverlucht. Dat het brandbaar is, meldt Meijer (1766) in zijne Chemische Versuchen zur Erkenntnisz des Kalks.

Machine translated

Although the development of hydrogen sulfide must already have been noticed during the preparation of lac sulphuris, the peculiar smell is only mentioned later. Not until 1722 did Hoffmann say of the preparation of sulphur milk: "sulphur solvitur facile in lixivio, et cum acido summo cum foetore, wie faule Eier, in pulverem lividum praecipitatur." The property, of making silver black, is first mentioned by Libavius (1595), and afterwards by more other writers. The gas was then called sulfur-liver air. That it is flammable is reported by Meijer (1766) in his Chemische Versuchen zur Erkenntnisz des Kalks.

Translated with DeepL.com (free version)

The key-phrase you are looking at, mixed with Latin, is "wie faule Eier" ... as foul/rotten eggs.

Mellor in his Treatise of Inorganic Chemistry, Vol 10, also states the same year and the same association but attaches F. with Hoffmann.

Both the thesis and Mellor do not provide a reference to 1722...which must be lost or it is in Latin.


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