Zinc ornaments with more than 2500 years have been discovered, but should now be considered as alloys since they have composition of only 80 to 90% zinc, with the remainder lead including iron and antimony as impurities. Its material could not, under modern concepts, be called a commercially saleable metal.

The first smelting and extraction of the impure metal was carried out in China and India, around 1000 A.D.. The first slab zinc or spelter was imported from the East in the early seventeenth century, late when compared with iron, copper or lead. The metal did not even have a universally accepted name at this time, being known as tutanego, Indian tin, calamine or spiauter. The term "zink" was first used by Löhneyes in 1697. The commercial designation for zinc from a distillation process is still spelter.

Knowledge of smelting zinc was brought from China about 1740, and a zinc smelter was erected in Bristol, England. A patent was granted in 1758 for smelting zinc from a roasted blende or zinc sulfide, fundamentally the present distillation process. The electrolysis process of obtaining of zinc was introduced in USA, by 1916.