I am looking for a comprehensive and authoritative reference (journal article or book) dealing with the history of Mendeleev periodic table of elements as a data visualization. I am especially interested how the graphical representation of the table of elements changed over time.

As of now I found Wikipedia article History of the periodic table to be comprehensive (but it is not that authoritative).

I want to use it as (see-also)-type citation (I don't want to use any particular claims), so even a popular science article should be fine.

  • $\begingroup$ There are several references and links listed on the Wikipedia page. Are none of those what you are looking for? $\endgroup$
    – MånsT
    May 8, 2014 at 11:09
  • $\begingroup$ @MånsT I went through it, within things I can access. Unless Google Books blocks the best pages, I didn't find anything focusing on evolution of this data vis (sure, there are some pieces of data vis scattered over many publications). As I am looking for "see-also" reference, I would like to refrain from original research on this topic (I am neither a chemist nor a historian). $\endgroup$ May 8, 2014 at 11:21
  • $\begingroup$ Eric R. Scerri, The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance may have the desired information, but I don't have access to it so I cannot judge. $\endgroup$ May 8, 2014 at 11:38
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    $\begingroup$ An image of the very first graphic (a manuscript draft in, I believe, Mendeleev's own hand) is online at images-of-elements.com/l/draft.jpg. For subsequent (and preliminary) developments, see the presentation by David Hobart of LANL. The table had acquired its standard (modern) appearance by 1938. Some innovative visualizations appear on slides 46-48. $\endgroup$
    – whuber
    May 8, 2014 at 15:40

1 Answer 1


My original best guesses came up short (at least for the articles I had quick access to). Friendly's The Golden Age of Statistical Graphics mentions a derivative of the periodic table is Moseley's discovery of the concept of an atomic number - but doesn't mention the table itself. I quickly checked the work of Michael Friendly and Howard Wainer to see if they had any general pieces on the work - but I found none (quickly).

I don't have quick access to Tufte's book(s) - but he is pretty comprehensive in historical review. It is possible he mentions the periodic table in brief (but I think is unlikely to have a review of the table over time like you envision).

Some perusing on Google Scholar though brought up a Journal of Chemical Education that has a few articles of interest. See:

From there I got lucky and found Periodicity, visualization, and design by Francis T. Marchese - which appears to fit your bill perfectly for a historical narrative (although doesn't cite the other more recent articles I mention).

  • $\begingroup$ I was partly familiar with some musings about the periodic table in cartogram form via John Cook - see here for an older version - although note Harlan Harris's comment about the likely inaccuracy. Here is another variant via John Cook from an article in Time magazine. $\endgroup$
    – Andy W
    May 8, 2014 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for Francis T. Marchese, Periodicity, visualization, and design - exactly what I need! AFAIR in Tufte's books periodic table is mentioned asone of the hallmarks of data visualization, but certainly not going into its history (I've skimmed 3 books by him). $\endgroup$ May 8, 2014 at 15:58

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