The manganese compounds were already used in the Antiquity, but it is difficult to determine the beginning of its usage, once they were mistaken by other compounds such as those of iron and of another elements. Pliny, in the Roman Era, mentions its usage with the name of "magnes", considering it a magnetite variety, i.e. a magnetic mineral of iron. Later, in books of the end of the 17th century, the term "magnesia" was used as synonym of manganese oxide. J. H. Pott in 1740, proved that pyrolusite (manganese dioxide) does not contain iron, as it was believed until then, produced a wide variety of salts, which were different from those obtained from the iron oxides.

In 1774, C. W. Scheele distinguished the magnetite of the pyrolusite, and, in the same year, his assistant Johann Gottlieb Gahn isolated the manganese. Its name derives from the Latin magnes, which refers to the magnetic properties exhibited by the pyrolusite.