Today approximately 180 billion aluminium cans are made every year but do you know how long aluminium has been around?

Discovery of aluminium

One of the newest metals to be discovered, aluminium (13th element in the periodic table) does not occur naturally in its purest form, and it wasn’t until new developments in chemistry and the arrival of electricity during the 19th century that aluminium was discovered.

However, the compound alum has been known since the 5th century BC and was used extensively throughout Europe from XVI century. During the Middle Ages, its use for dyeing made it a commodity of international commerce

Hans Christian Oersted

Discovery of this metal was announced in 1825 by Danish physicist Hans Christian Ørsted, whose work was extended by German chemist Friedrich Wöhler.  Soon after its discovery, the price of aluminium exceeded that of gold.

Henri-Etienne Sainte-Claire Deville

It was only reduced after the initiation of the first industrial production by Henri-Etienne Sainte-Claire Deville, an outstanding French chemist and technologist, transferred the chemical method of aluminium creation discovered by scientists to industrial application. He improved the Woehler process and produced the first industrial aluminium.

The produced metal resembled silver, it was light and expensive and was considered an elite material intended for ornaments and luxury items. But even then, Sainte-Claire Deville understood that the future of aluminium was not just to be associated with jewellery and is quoted to have said: “There is nothing harder than to make people use a new metal. Luxury items and ornaments cannot be the only sphere of its applications. I hope the time will come when aluminium will serve to satisfy the daily needs”

Hall-Héroult process

In 1878, James Fern Webster was producing 100lbs of pure aluminium every week at his Solihull Lodge factory in Warwickshire. He used a chemical process. In 1884, he established a trading title, Webster’s Patent Aluminium Crown Metal Company Ltd. Aluminium became much more available to the public with the Hall–Héroult process developed independently by French engineer Paul Héroult and American engineer Charles Hall in 1886, and the Bayer process developed by Austrian chemist Carl Joseph Bayer in 1889. These processes have been used for aluminium production up to the present.

Widespread use

The introduction of these methods for the mass production of aluminium led to extensive use of the light, corrosion-resistant metal in industry and everyday life. Aluminium began to be used in engineering and construction. In World Wars I and II, aluminium was a crucial strategic resource for aviation. World production of the metal grew dramatically, and aluminium became the most produced non-ferrous metal.

Robert Victor Neher invented the method used for continuous aluminium rolling foil production in Switzerland in 1907. He launched the world’s first foil rolling mill in 1910

Aluminium was widely used in the aviation, shipbuilding and automotive industries during that time and started its progress in civil engineering. The Empire State Building It was the first building where aluminium was widely employed in construction, both in the basic structures and in the interior.

The 20th century saw humans rocket into space. The use of aluminium was critical and triggered the aerospace industry to become one of the key spheres. In 1957, the USSR launched the first artificial satellite into orbit. The satellites hull consisted of two separate aluminium semi-spheres joined together. All subsequent space vehicles were produced using aluminium.

Today, approximately 180 billion aluminium cans are made every year, making them the largest single use of aluminium globally. Furniture, tables, chairs, pots and pans, lamps, picture frames etc are frequently manufactured from aluminium.

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