Alcoa celebrates 125 years of modern aluminum

February marked a milestone American history that’s known to few but benefits everyone. Thanks to the birth of the modern aluminum smelting process 125 years ago by Charles Martin Hall, thousands of modern products can be made safer, lighter, more fuel efficient and more recyclable.

At the local Rockdale Atomizer, molten aluminum is converted into fine powders used in many different applications, including pigments and coatings for automotive, electronics and packaging industries, chemicals for water purification, solar and computer industries, solar for photovoltaic film, propulsion and defense for rocket fuel and missiles and other applications such as metallurgy and refractory.

Hall was just 22-years-old and a student at Oberlin College in Ohio when he discovered the way to create aluminum by separating it from bauxite ore through electrolysis. The aluminum pellets created from this discovery are called “Alcoa’s crown jewels” because it led to the patent Hall received July 9, 1886, and later the founding of Alcoa.

In celebration of Hall’s remarkable invention, Alcoa, the company launched by Hall and a group of inspired investors, is initiating a series of events and activities to recognize Hall’s achievement and the influence of this miracle metal.

Alcoa vice president and chief sustainabilit y of f icer Kev in Anton kicked off anniversary celebrations across the country at a keynote address on Feb. 23 at Oberlin College which is also commemorating the anniversary with special programs.

“Hall’s process is of course the backbone of our company, but this singular ‘cracking of the code’ did much more than just build an American success story,” Anton said. “In the 125 years since his discovery, the development of aluminum has been nothing short of groundbreaking– opening up entire markets and industries, from cookware to electrical conductors, to car frames, to space shuttles and laptops.”

According to Anton, the innovation that occurred on Feb. 23, 1886, in Hall’s ‘woodshed’ lab remains today at the core of Alcoa’s DNA.

“We call aluminum the miracle metal not just for one reason– but for many,” said Jim Hodson, public affairs manager. “Its properties are simply amazing: lightweight and ideal for promoting fuel efficiency in autos; strong enough to withstand deep ocean drilling and space travel; non-corrosive, making it perfect for use on the fa├žade of buildings and of course, it is infinitely recyclable. No other material has all of these properties.”

Prior to Hall’s invention, aluminum extraction methods were crude and costly. It was a metal used rarely and only by those who could afford it. Thus in the late 1800s, it was used sparingly and as an ornamental metal, like its placement in 1884 at the top of the Washington Monument.

A f ter Hall’s patented process, aluminum became more available and its attributes were recognized and sought after—in 1903 the Wright brothers recognized the lightweight properties of Alcoa aluminum were integral to their first flying machine. In the years that followed, from the industrial revolution to today, aluminum has been at the cornerstone of both the extraordinary and the everyday.

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