It was first described scientifically in 1803 in “New Spain”, the colonial name for modern Mexico. The original specimen came from Purísima del Cardenal mine, in Hildalgo, Mexio and was given to Andrés Manuel del Río, a Spanish mineralogist and professor at Real Seminario de Minería (College of Mines). Del Río referred to the mineral as “brown lead” and closely analyse its chemical structure. He determined that it contained a new element, which he named panchromium, because he had prepare the element in such a way that it produced a wide variety of colors. He later renamed the element erythronium (after the Greek for “red”) when he discovered the element turned a bright red when heated. Unfortunately for Del Río, he later retracted the claim to have found a new element, after other scientists incorrectly analyzed mineral specimens and said the new element was merely an impure form of chromium.
In 1838, his discovery was proven correct by Nils Gabriel Sefström, a Swedish chemist, who found that the “brown lead” did indeed contain a new element. Sefström named the new element vanadium, after the Vanadis, “the children of the Vanir” a tribe of Viking gods and goddess. The most famous member of the Vanir is Freya, the goddess of love and beauty who had bright red hair. Soon after, Del Río’s “brown lead” was the officially named Vanadinite. A few scientists in the United States and United Kingdom argued that Del Río should have the honors, but ultimately Sefström’s supporters were victorious.
Del Río, was bitter that he had lost the right to name the new element and mineral, but nevertheless had a long and productive career. During the Mexican Revolution, most Spanish residents were expelled back to Europe. Del Río was one of the few exceptions. He considered Mexico his homeland and was honored there throughout his lifetime. He continued to teach at the College of Mines and laid the foundation for the current Institute of Geology at the University of Mexico. Today, Mexico’s prestigious National Chemistry Prize, given to Mexican chemists who have made a significant contribution to the field, is named the “Andrés Manuel Del Río” and the award metal bears his likeness.