A Brief History of Aluminum

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A Brief History of Aluminum

Aluminum’s name is derived from the ancient Greek word for alumen, which means “bitter salt.”

Who came up with the word aluminum?

The element was first isolated in 1808 by Sir Humphry Davy, who accomplished the feat by passing an electric current through a solution of alumina (aluminum oxide, Al2O3).  He is also responsible for coining the element’s name.

When did aluminum become an element?

It wasn’t until 1825, however, that aluminum was recognized as a true element. That’s when Danish chemist Hans Christian Orsted managed to produce a small amount of pure metal.  For years scientists had been studying alumina, trying to figure out how to reduce it (a process known as reduction) so they could get at the aluminum metal inside.

When was the first pure aluminum metal produced? 

In 1827, French chemist Henri Etienne Sainte-Claire Deville finally succeeded in reducing alumina using sodium.  However, his process was too expensive to be practical.

The modern aluminum industry began in 1886 when Charles Martin Hall and Paul Héroult independently developed a cheap and efficient way to produce aluminum metal from alumina.  The method, known as the Hall-Héroult process, is still used today.

When was the first aluminum foil produced? 

In 1903, the first aluminum foil was produced in France. In 1911, Bern-based Tobler began wrapping its chocolate bars in aluminum foil. Their distinctive triangular bar, Toblerone, is still widely accessible today.

What year was Aluminum foil first produced in America?

In 1913, the United States began producing aluminum foil. The first commercial application of aluminum foil was for packaging Life Savers in their iconic shiny metal tube. During World War II, there was a huge demand for aluminum foil. Foil strips dropped from bombers were used to confuse and distract radar tracking systems early in the war. Families were urged to save aluminum foil because it was so important to the war effort. In many cities, the collected foil balls could be exchanged for a free ticket to a movie theatre.

Are aluminum Christmas trees still made?

No. In the early 1960s, one of the most creative applications of aluminum foil happened. The metal Christmas tree was introduced—complete with foil-covered twigs and decorations. Evergleam, one of the most popular brands, was made by the Aluminum Specialty Company of Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The company’s founder, Earl Kautz, actually came up with the idea when he saw how aluminum foil could reflect light and make a tree sparkle.

By 1965, Evergleam trees were being sold in all 50 states and in 18 foreign countries. The aluminum Christmas tree began to fall out of favour in the mid-1960s as more people embraced home decorations made from natural materials such as wood and glass. Many were discarded or relegated to basements and attics, while others remained unused for years.

It seems the idea of an aluminum tree was short-lived, but it was a sign of things to come.

What is aluminum used for in 2022? 

Nowadays aluminum is a household item. It can be found in the kitchen in the form of foil, pans, and utensils. It’s also used in siding, gutters, and window frames. And let’s not forget aluminum cans! More than 100 billion aluminum beverage cans are produced each year.

This versatile metal is used in everything from packaging to construction.  Planes, trains, and automobiles all make use of aluminum’s properties.  It’s even used in space exploration!  Can you see why we love it so much? It’s truly a game changer.

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So there you have it, the history of aluminum! From its humble beginnings as a little-understood element to its present-day status as a versatile metal with a multitude of uses, aluminum has come a long way.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring? We know one thing for certain, at www.aaluminum.com we love all things aluminum! So please don’t hesitate to give us a shout if you need more


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