Tungsten compounds were at least known since the medieval, although the element itself was unknown by then. Tungsten minerals were often unwanted components of tin ores in central Europe forming foam on top of the melt during tin smelting and thereby reducing tin recovery. Georgius Agricola named it therefore Wolfram, derived from the German words “Wolf” and “Rahm”, meaning wolf and foam in English. The reason was that the foam “ate” the tin similar to a wolf.
In 1757, the Swedish chemist Axel Frederic Cronstedt described a light heavy mineral. He named it “tung sten” in Swedish, meaning “heavy stone”. In 1781, German-Swedish chemist Carl Friedrich Scheele first produced tungsten acid from tungsten ore. His two scholars, the brothers Juan Jose and Fausto Elhyar, reduced the first metallic tungsten from tungsten acid four years later. They proposed to name the new element wolfram. It is still the official name of the element in German and Swedish, while in most other languages the name tungsten was adopted. But the chemical symbol for tungsten remained “W”.
One of the two economically important minerals of tungsten was named “wolframite” by August Breithaupt in 1820. The mineral from which the term “tung sten” was derived of was named in honour of C.F. Scheele “scheelite” in 1821. Since then, tungsten and its derived products have become an important part of the technologies of the 20th and 21st century.