Magnesium compounds such as asbestos, talcum, dolomite, and nephrite have been known from very remote times and used for various purposes. They, however, were not recognized as individual substances but were considered to be varieties of lime.
In 1618 H. Wiker found mineral springs near Epson in England. In 1695 a salt (magnesium sulphate) with a bitter taste was discovered in the Epson spring water and later it was used in medicine.
Scientists established that artificial Epsom salt could be prepared by adding sulphuric acid to the mother solution remaining after the purification of salt extracted from sea water. The difference between Epsom and Glauber’s (sodium sulphate) salts was established but the difference between lime and white magnesia remained unclear for a long time. J. Black was the first to establish the different Solubilities of these compound and their sulphates in water. According to C. Newman, magnesium oxide was considered to be white magnesia in contrast to black magnesia, which is pyrolusite.
Metallic magnesium (although not very pure and in a very small amount) was obtained for the first time in 1808 by H. Davy who used the same procedure as that for isolating potassium and sodium. Large amounts of the pure metal were obtained in 1831 by the French chemist A. Bussy. The name of the element is derived from the word “magnesia”.