The discovery of europium is generally credited to Demarcay who obtained the earth in pure form in 1901 by fractional crystallization of double magnesium nitrates, although as early as 1892 Boisbaudran had obtained basic fractions from samarium-gadolinium concentrates having spark spectral lines not accounted for by samarium or gadolinium and subsequently shown to belong to europium.

The scarcity and complex chemistry of europium undoubtedly accounted for its late discovery, coming over 15 years after the isolation of samarium. The name, of course, is taken from Europe.