The History of Aluminium

Although alum has been known to man since the ancient Greeks and Romans used alum salts as dyeing mordants and as Louis-Bernard Guyton de Morveauastringents for dressing wounds it was not until 1761 that Guyton de Morveau suggested calling the base alum alumine. The metal drives its name from Alumen, the Latin name for alum.

IHumphry Davyn 1808, Humphry Davy identified the existence of a metal base of alum, which he at first termed alumium and later aluminum.

The metal was first produced in 1825 (in an impure form) by Danish physicist and chemist Hans Christian Ørsted. He reacted anhydrous aluminium chloride with potassium amalgam and yielded a lump of metal looking similar to tin.

Friedrich Wöhler conducted a similar experiment in 1827 by mixing anhydrous aluminium chloride with potassium and yielded aluminium. Wöhler is generally credited with isolating aluminium, but often Ørsted is credited with being the discoverer.

At Les Baux in 1821, the Frenchman Pierre Berthier discovered bauxite ore, the raw material for industrial aluminium production and successfully extracted aluminium from it.

Friedrich WöhlerFrenchman Henri Etienne Sainte-Claire Deville improved Wöhler's method in 1846 with the substitution of sodiumHans Christian Ørsted for the considerably more expensive potassium. Deville likely also conceived the idea of the electrolysis of aluminium oxide dissolved in cryolite; however, Charles Martin Hall and Paul Héroult might have developed the more practical process after Deville.

Before the Hall-Héroult process was developed, aluminium was exceedingly difficult to extract from its various ores. This made pure aluminium more valuable than gold. Bars of aluminium were exhibited alongside the French crown jewels at the Exposition Universelle of 1855, and Napoleon III was said to have reserved a set of aluminium dinner plates for his most honoured guests. Aluminium was selected as the material to be used for the apex of the Washington Monument in 1884, a time when one ounce (30 grams) cost the daily wage of a common worker on the project, aluminium was about the same value as silver.

The Cowles companies supplied aluminium alloy in quantity in the United States and England using smelters like the furnace of Carl Wilhelm Siemens by 1886.

 Paul HéroultCharles Martin HallCharles Martin Hall of Ohio in the U.S. and Paul Héroult of France independently developed the Hall Héroult electrolytic process that made extracting aluminium from minerals cheaper and is now the principal method used worldwide. The Hall-Heroult process cannot produce Super Purity Aluminium directly. Hall's process in 1888 with the financial backing of Alfred E. Hunt, started the Pittsburgh Reduction Company today known as Alcoa. Héroult's process was in production by 1889 in Switzerland at Aluminium Industrie, (now Alcan), and at British Aluminium, (now Luxfer Group) and Alcoa, by 1896 in Scotland. By 1895 the metal was being used as a building material as far away as Sydney, Australia in the dome of the Chief Secretary's Building.

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