The objectives of this study are: (a) elaboration of a history and philosophy of science (HPS) framework based on a reconstruction of the development of the periodic table; (b) formulation of seven criteria based on the framework; and (c) evaluation of 57 freshman college-level general chemistry textbooks with respect to the presentation of the periodic table. The historical reconstruction of the periodic table showed that the periodicity of the elements could be construed as an inductive generalization or as a function of the atomic theory. There is considerable controversy with respect to the nature of Mendeleev's contribution, and various alternatives are discussed: ordered domain; empirical law; and a theory with limited explanatory power. Accommodation of the elements according to their physicochemical properties is considered to be the major contribution of the periodic table by all textbooks, followed by contrapredictions of previously unknown elements (30 textbooks), and novel predictions (corrections of atomic mass) of known elements (10 textbooks). The relative importance of accommodation and prediction within an HPS framework is generally ignored. Few textbooks have attempted to explore the possible cause of periodicity in the table and very few textbooks have explored the nature of Mendeleev's contribution. The development of the periodic table as a sequence of heuristic principles in the form of a convincing argument has been ignored. The textbook approach of emphasizing that the development of the periodic table was an inductive generalization, and that Mendeleev had no model or theory, does not facilitate the spirit of critical inquiry that led the scientists to grapple with alternative interpretations, conflicts, and controversies. It is concluded that the development of the periodic table went through a continual critical appraisal (conflict and controversy), in which scientists presented various tentative theoretical ideas to understand the observed phenomena. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 42: 84–111, 2005