Heating spirits of hartshorn, he was able to collect "alkaline air" (gaseous ammonia), again because he was using mercury in his pneumatic trough; then, trying what would happen if he passed electric sparks through the gas, he decomposed it into nitrogen and hydrogen, and "having a notion" that mixed with hydrochloric acid gas it would produce a "neutral air," perhaps much the same as common air, he synthesized sal ammoniac. Dephlogisticated air (oxygen) he prepared in August 1774 by heating red oxide of mercury with a burning-glass, and he found that in it a candle burnt with a remarkably vigorous flame and mice lived well.
39), although it is not known whether the term is identical with the more modern sal-ammoniac. In the form of sal-ammoniac, ammonia was known, however, to the alchemists as early as the 13th century, being mentioned by Albertus Magnus, whilst in the 15th century Basil Valentine showed that ammonia could be obtained by the action of alkalies on sal-ammoniac. At a later period when sal-ammoniac was obtained by distilling the hoofs and horns of oxen, and neutralizing the resulting carbonate with hydrochloric acid, the name spirits of hartshorn was applied to ammonia.
The commercial salt is known as salvolatile or salt of hartshorn and was formerly obtained by the dry distillation of nitrogenous organic matter such as hair, horn, decomposed urine, &c., but is now obtained by heating a mixture of sal-ammoniac, or ammonium sulphate and chalk, to redness in iron retorts, the vapours being condensed in leaden receivers.
The principal mining centres are McAlester, Wilburton, Hartshorn, Coalgate and Phillips.