Hall improved his process, the price of aluminum ingots dropped from $4.86
per pound in 1888 to 78 cents per pound in 1893. Because manufacturers were
reluctant to use an unfamiliar metal, the company developed prototype products
such as the first cast aluminum tea kettle for use as sales tools.
aluminum to the forefront
A group of six industrialists led by Alfred E. Hunt provided the financial
backing that enabled Hall to found the Pittsburgh Reduction Company in
1888. Before that year was out, Hall and his first employee, Arthur Vining
Davis, had produced the first commercial aluminum.
first name in aluminum
In 1907, the company was renamed the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa).
Business grew as manufacturers grasped the benefits of this light yet
strong metal. In the mid-1930s, industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss predicted
that "aluminum will play a large and significant part" in the
"greatest period of redesign the world has known." By the late
1930s, a pound of aluminum cost just 20 cents; its uses numbered more
Aluminum was at the forefront of the development of our industrial society
and also played a strategic role in World War II. Demand doubled as the
material spawned a new generation of aircraft and automobiles. Aluminum
products also included cooking utensils, foil, electric wire and cable.
Today, the United States is the worlds greatest producer and consumer
of aluminummetal of the modern era. The process begins with truckloads
of dirt and ends with billions of recycled items.
bauxite Four tons of bauxite produce one ton of aluminumenough
to make the cans for more than 60,000 soft drinks. Bauxite is formed over
millions of years by chemical weathering of rocks containing aluminum
silicates, producing an ore rich in aluminum oxide. Today, bauxite is
mined primarily in Africa, Australia and the Caribbean.
Refining alumina The ore is ground and mixed with lime and
caustic soda, then heated in high-pressure containers. The aluminum oxide
is dissolved by the caustic soda, precipitated out of the solution, washed
and heated to eliminate water. The resulting alumina is a white powder
Smelting into aluminum An electrolytic reduction process
known as smelting dissolves the alumina in a cryolite bath inside carbon-lined
cells, or pots. A powerful electric current, which is passed through the
bath, separates aluminum metal from the chemical solution and the metal
is siphoned off. Smelting is the industrial-scale version of the process
developed in 1886 by Charles Martin Hall in his woodshed laboratory.
Fabricating products Aluminum goes from the smelting pot
into the furnace for mixing with other metals. These alloys have specific
properties to meet specific uses. Fluxing purifies the metal, which is
then poured into molds or cast into ingots. Fabrication may include forging,
casting, rolling, drawing or extruding to create different finished products
from automobiles to aircraft. Recycling extends the life cycle of aluminum
products, the most valuable material in the waste stream.
The first all-aluminum beverage can appeared in 1963 and the first recycling
effort began in California in 1968. In 2000, the recycling rate for
aluminum cans was more than 60 percent, compared with only 15.4 percent
Today, more than 10,000 aluminum recycling centers operate across the
United States. Recycled aluminumfrom packaging to approximately
90 percent of automotive aluminum scrapmakes up one-third of Americas
aluminum supply. Recycling saves almost 95 percent of the energy needed
to produce aluminum from its oreconserving natural resources and
reducing pollutants such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides and sulfur
dioxide while also reducing the need for solid waste disposal.
In 1996, recycling saved the equivalent of more than 18.4 billion barrels
of oil, or 10.8 billion kilowatt hoursenough energy to supply
electricity to a city the size of Pittsburgh for about six years.
Charles Martin Hall would have been proud that the process he discovered,
and its commercialization, would also create valuable recycled materials.