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Rare Earth Elements: Home

Resources in the Othmer Library on the rare earth elements and their uses, industries, and controversies.

The Rare Earth Industry, 1915.

Image depicting the "flashing" room of the Edison and Swan Electric Light Company where workers prepare filaments for incandescent electric glow lamps using a process called "flashing" in which carbon is deposited onto a filament.

Welsbach Gas Light Company Photograph Album 1920-1929.

Album containing 52 black and white photographs documenting various aspects of the production process at the Welsbach Gas Light Company site located along the Delaware River in Gloucester City, New Jersey. From 1888 to 1940, the Welsbach Gas Light Company held exclusive manufacturing and sales rights to the Welsbach gas mantle, a device made of fibers impregnated with oxides of thorium and cerium that produced bright white light when heated with a gas flame. Invented in 1880's by Austrian scientist Carl Auer Von Welsbach (1858-1929), these gas mantles were used extensively in street lighting and in gas-powered appliances. 

The "Whoop" Gas Lighter.

Lighter using pyrophoric alloys or "Misch" metals to create a spark.

Books on the History of Rare Earths

Reference Sources

Science History Institute Projects and Articles

Oral Histories

Search the text transcripts of the Oral History Collection in the Digital Collection. Many of our oral history interviewees mention rare earths.

Archival Collections

Objects and Artifacts from our Museum Collection

Welsbach Gas Mantel Collection

General Information

Othmer Library of Chemical History

Science History Institute
315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Monday - Friday
10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. 

List of the Rare Earth Elements

Try searching the library catalog for specific elements, they're discoverer, or their related industries. 

Element Discovery Common Uses
Scandium Lars Frederik Nilson in 1879 Alloy for light-weight applications, 
Yttrium Johan Gadolin in 1794 Superconductors, Glass, Lasers, LED lights, Alloys
Lanthanum Carl Gustaf Mosander (1797-1858) Glass, Flints, Semiconductor
Cerium M.H. Klaproth, J.J. Berzelius, W. Hisinger in 1808 Alloys, Flints, Catalysis, Light-bulbs, Pigment
Praseodymium Carl Auer Baron von Welsbach in 1885 Pigment for glass and ceramics, Electrodes for arc lamps
Neodymuim Carl Auer Baron von Welsbach in 1885 Electronics, Colored glass, Alloys, Flints
Promethium J.A. Marinsky, L.E. Glendenin, and C.D. Coryell in 1945 Atomic batteries, Luminescent paints, Source of radioactivity
Samarium Paul-Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran in 1879 Magnets for electronic devices, Glass, Ceramics, Lighting
Europium Eugène-Anatole Demarçay in 1901 Color for inks and light bulbs, Control rods in nuclear reactors, Alloys
Gadolinium Jean Charles Galissard de Marignac in 1880 Alloys, Nuclear reactors 
Carl Gustaf Mosander in 1843
Solid-state electronics, Light bulbs, X-rays, Speakers
Paul-Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran 
in 1886
Alloys for magnets in the green energy field, Nuclear reactor control rods, Lighting
Holmium P.T. Cleve, M. Delafontaine and L. Soret in 1878 Nuclear reactors, Alloys for magnets
Erbium Carl Gustaf Mosander in 1843 In Glass for pink color, Gems, Fiber optic cables, Safety glass
Thulium Per Teodor Cleve in 1879 X-rays, Lasers
Ytterbium Jean Charles Galissard de Marignac in 1878 Industrial catalyst 
Lutetium Georges Urbain, Charles James in 1907 Catalyst, Research 


Books on the Rare Earths in Industry and Technology

Books on the Chemistry of Rare Earth Elements

Books on the Issues with Rare Earth Mining and Use