Playing With Fire » Making a Deadly Sun
rom urine to firebombs-white phosphorus is among the nastiest of elements. In 1669 the pompous German alchemist Hennig Brandt accidentally discovered white phosphorus while boiling urine in Hamburg. He became the talk of the town by demonstrating its amazing luminous powers to scientists and dignitaries.
In a cruel irony, 274 years later the discovery he'd hoped would turn lead into gold instead turned his city to ashes when a thousand tons of white-phosphorus incendiary bombs created one of the great firestorms of World War II ; 37,000 people died when the sky burned over Hamburg. Yet even today, white phosphorus is still used as a weapon.