Charles Martin Hall:
aluminum’s ‘boy wonder’

At age 12, Charles Martin Hall began experimenting with minerals, turning a small woodshed behind his home into a makeshift laboratory. He first studied chemistry using an 1840s textbook from the shelves of his minister father’s study. By age 16, he was a freshman at Oberlin College, venturing into the chemistry lab to borrow items he needed for his lab at home. His chemistry professor, Frank Fanning Jewett, showed students a small bit of aluminum and said the person who discovered an economical way to produce the metal would become rich. Hall leapt at the challenge. Hall was born in Thompson, Ohio, in 1863. He graduated from college in 1885 and went back to his woodshed to work on the purification of aluminum. His concept was to find a nonaqueous solvent for aluminum oxide, in order to produce metallic aluminum by electrolysis using carbon electrodes. On February 23, 1886, Hall found the solvent he needed: molten cryolite, the mineral sodium aluminum fluoride. He produced his first small bits of aluminum using the cryolite, aluminum oxide and homemade batteries.

Hall founded the Pittsburgh Reduction Company, and in 1888, began production of pure aluminum on a commercial scale. In 1907, the company became the Aluminum Corporation of America (Alcoa). He spent the next 25 years perfecting his process and developing the aluminum industry.

In 1911, Hall was awarded the Perkin Medal for his accomplishments. He died in Daytona Beach, Florida in 1914.

 


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