Lead is very rarely encountered in a native state but is smelted fairly easily from ores. Lead become known to Egyptians simultaneously with iron and silver and was produced as early as the second millenium B.C. in India and china, In Europe production of lead began somewhat later although in the 6th century. B.C records we find mention of lead which was brought
to the Tyre trade fair. Lead was produced in great amounts during the reign of Hammurabi in Babylon. For a long time lead was confused with tin. Tin was named “plum bum album” and lead–“plumbum nigrum”. Only in the Middle Ages were they recognized as different metals.
Greeks and Phoenicians started many lead mines in Spain which later were taken over by Romans. In ancient Rome lead was widely used: for making crockery, styluses, and pipes for the famous Roman water-main. Lead was also used for manufacturing white lead. The island of Rhodes was the biggest exporter of white lead.
Lead Preparation :
The process of its preparation is still used as follows: lead pieces are immersed into vinegar and the salt thus obtained is boiled with water for a long time.
But red lead was first obtained unexpectedly. When a fire broke out in the Greek port of Piraeus barrels with lead were enveloped in flames. After the fire had been extinguished, red substance was found in the charred barrels–it was red lead.
Although in Russia lead has been known for a long time, up to the 18th century the process of lead production was very primitive. After the invention of firearms lead was used for making bullets and the military importance of lead is still great. But in addition to its “military” uses” lead has many peaceful ones; for instance, typographical types are made of its alloy with antimony. Lead is also used for protection against radiation in experiments.
Greeks named leadmolibdos; its chemical symbol Pb originates from Latin plumbum.