In 1801, Manuel Del Rio found, in a Mexican ore, what he thought to be a new metal. He called it "erythronium" (from the Greek "erythros" that means "red"), since the metal produced red salts when treated with acids. However, Del Rio abandoned its opinion when, four years later, Collet-Descostils affirmed that the new metal was just an impure chromium oxide. In 1830, N. G. Sefdtröm described a new mineral that had been found in Swedish ores containing iron, and called it "vanadium", in honor of "Vanadis", a Swedish goddess, due to the brilliant colors of its compounds. In 1831, F. Wöller discovered that Del Rio's erythronium was not anything but the vanadium of Sefdtröm.

J. J. Berzelius also investigated this vanadium in 1831, but he thought that vanadium oxide was a metal, itself. Finally, in 1867, H. E. Roscoe isolated the metal and established its relationship with the nitrogen family.