The present paper claims that M. S. Tswett’s chromatographic adsorption analysis, which today is a ubiquitous and instrumentally sophisticated chemical technique, was either ignored or outright rejected by chemists and botanists in the first three decades of the twentieth century because it did not make sense in terms of accepted chemical theory or practice. Evidence for this claim is culled from consideration of the botanical and chemical context of Tswett’s technique as well as an analysis of the protracted debate over Tswett’s chromatographic analysis of chlorophyll between him and Leon Marchlewski, a noted chlorophyll chemist of the period. In this way, the paper expands and amends what it calls the ‘textbook story’ of the early history of chromatography, examples of which may be found in historical notes in many textbooks of chemical instrumental analysis and numerous short articles in chemistry journals. The paper also provides an accessible introduction to the early history of chromatography for historians of science likely to know little or nothing about it.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.