History of Aluminum

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History of Aluminum

Aluminum as a metal came to its existence only 200 years ago. However, Dmitry Eskin noted that almost 2000 years ago, Pleny the Elder “mentions a strange, light, and silvery metal in his Historia Naturalis which might indicate that aluminum may have been discovered accidentally and then forgotten” (Eskin 2008, p. 1). Citing the work of Pleny the Elder, Eskin puts it: “One day a gold smith in Rome was allowed to show the Emperor Tiberius a dinner plate of a new metal. The plate was very light, and almost as bright as silver.

The goldsmith told the Emperor that he had made the metal from plain clay. He also assured the Emperor that only he, himself, and the gods knew how to produce these metal from clay. The emperor felt immediately, however, that all his treasures of gold and silver would decline in value if people started to produce this bright metal of clay. Therefore, instead of giving the goldsmith the regard expected, he ordered him to be beheaded” (p. 1).

The existence of this young metal was established by an Englishman H. Davy in 1808 which he called “aluminium,” but this name was later changed to Aluminum (USA). Thus, both aluminium (U. K. ) and aluminum continues to be use to call this metal. Nevertheless, it was not until 1825 that pure aluminum was extracted by the Dane N. C. Oerested, though actually, he was only able to produce tiny amounts.

Eskin pointed out that between 1827 and 1845, the German F. Wohler “developed the first process to produce aluminum powder by reacting potassium with anhydrous aluminum chloride” (p. ). It was also Wohler who determined some physical properties of aluminum such as its density which according to Eskin, “appeared to be the most remarkable characteristic of the new metal” (p. 1). Citing the description of Jules Verne about this newly discovered metal in his “From the Earth to the Moon” in 1865, Verne wrote: “This valuable metal possesses the whiteness of silver, the indestructibility of gold, the tenacity of iron, the fusibility of copper, the lightness of glass.

It is easily wrought, is very widely distributed, forming the base of most rocks, is three times lighter than iron, and seems to have been created for the purpose of furnishing us with the material for our projectile” (p. 2) By 1854, a French chemist by the name of Henri Etienne Sainte-Claire Deville improved the method used by Wohler which facilitated the aluminum commercial production that resulted to the dropping of price from approximately $1200 per kilogram in 1852 to just about forty dollars per kilogram in 1859.

But aluminum’s price remained costly for voluminous use. Not long when Charles Martin Hall discovered an inexpensive method for the aluminum production. Mary Bellis noted that extracting pure aluminum was not easy as it is never found free in nature. This difficulty made aluminum a precious metal during this period, but with Martin hall’s invention of aluminum processor which was patented in 1888 had made aluminum processing easy that brought aluminum price down to an even lower at eighteen cents a pound (Bellis, Mary).

According to the American society for metals, aluminum is the most “abundant metal in the earth’s crust” (ASM, ASM International Handbook Committee 1990, p. 35) was a development of this century. It derives its name from the Latin alumen meaning bitterness. The ASM International stated that aluminum was first exhibited in 1855, but it was difficult to obtain during this period that it was more expensive than gold. During this time, companies producing aluminum had difficulty attracting buyers due to its high cost at $2 a pound.

It was only after one manufacturer discovered, it made good, inexpensive tea kettles that the price declined at cents a pound, and by the 1900 it was down to 32 cents per pound (p. 35). Production of aluminum however, was low until World War II, but in 1963, the aluminum industry which was undreamed of during the 1900, employed 35, 970 people in 951 plants with payroll of $221, 567,000. Thus in the first seven months of 1968 alone, more than 412,000 Mg (450 tons) of aluminum were cast in the United States. John Gilbert Kaufman and Elwin L.

Rooy pointed out that the first important market for aluminum were the castings following the commercialization of the Hall-Heroult electrolytic reduction process (p. 1). Kaufman and Rooy stressed that at first application were merely “limited to curiosities such as house numbers, hand mirrors, combs, brushes, tie clamps, and decorative lamp housings that emphasized the light weight, silvery finish, and novelty of the new metal” (p. 1).

Furthermore, Kaufman and Rooy cited that cast aluminum cookware was invented and was a welcome alternative to cast iron and brass pots, pans, and kettles (p. ). As the production of aluminum increases, its cost steadily declined, and by the end of the 19th century, “important engineering application became economically viable” (p. 1). From this point onward, the use of aluminum in some industry features prominently. Kaufman and Rooy stated that the use of aluminum played important role electrification. Aluminum was well suited to the electrification demand of a low-density, corrosion resistant, and high-conductivity wire and cable.

Aluminum was also suited to transmission towers and cast installation hardware, and was also in demand to automotive pioneers who “sought innovative materials and product forms to differentiate the performance and appearance of their products” (Kaufman & Rooy, p. 1). More importantly, Kaufman and Rooy noted that when the Wright Brothers succeeded in powerful flight, engine and other parts in cast aluminum “represented the beginning of a close collaboration with what would become the aviation industry” (p. 1).

The earliest design rules for aluminum structures according to Randolph Kissell and Robert L. Ferry were developed at Alcoa around 1930 and were used “to design the aluminum deck and floor beams installed on the Smithfield street Bridge in Pittsburg in 1933 (Ferry 2002, p. 217). After the publication of the American Society of Civil Engineers of an article entitled “Specification for Structures of a Moderate Strength Aluminum Alloy of High Resistance to Corrosion” in 1952 and similar other publications in 1956, major aluminum producers led by Alcoa as the number aluminum producer, followed by Reynolds and Kaiser began to developed structural design books for their product (Kissel & Ferry, p. 17).

From this point on, aluminum has become important components of the construction manual series which included the following: Section 1: Specifications for aluminum structures; section 1A: Commentary on Specifications for Aluminum Structure; section 2 Illustrative Examples of Designs; Section 3: Engineering Data for Aluminum Structures; and, section 5: Specification for Aluminum Sheet Metal Work in Building Construction (p. 18). From its humble beginnings, the use of aluminum has evolve from simple curiosities such as house numbers, combs, pins, and other small items made from aluminum, to become an important material in almost business industries from automotive to aero space industry, to construction industry. Below is a classification table for aluminum which characterizes its description and its properties.


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 21 September 2016

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