The average modern human being uses products containing aluminium a few times a day, but the widespread use of the winged metal only really took off at the start of the 20th century. That’s not to say that aluminium was not used before, and you might be surprised to hear that its first uses date back much further than the industrial age.
Here are eight things you probably didn’t know about aluminium.
- An aluminium-based salt called alum was used quite extensively in ancient times. Aluminium takes its name from alum, and was first termed this way when an English chemist, Humphry Davy, discovered that electrolytic reduction from aluminium oxide (also called alumina) would produce aluminium in 1808.
- From the 16th century, aluminium became widely used for a number of purposes: for paper sizing in the paper pulp industry, as a tanning agent in the leather industry, and for use in many medical disciplines, including cosmetology, stomatology, ophthalmology and dermatology.
- The first practical implementation of Humphry Davy’s theory came in 1825, when Hans Christian Oerstedt successfully produced an aluminium alloy in Denmark. A German scientist, Friedrich Woehler carried on with Oerstedt’s work, but would only be able to produce small balls of solidified molten aluminium globules in 1845. Industrial aluminium would only be produced by 1856.
- The initially high costs of producing aluminium – due to the large amount of electricity required to do so – made aluminium an elite material in the late 1800s, and Friedrich Woehler famously designed a rattle for crown prince Louis Napoleon made from aluminium and gold.
- Aluminium is sometimes referred to as the winged metal, due to its widespread use in the aviation industry. In fact, the first controlled aerial vehicle, the Flyer-1, designed by Orville and Wilbur Wright, specifically utilised aluminium in the engine of the aircraft. The lighter material enabled the Flyer-1 to become the first ever plane to become airborne. Aluminium is still used in aircrafts today.
- The highest building in the world until 1970, the Empire State Building became the first building to extensively use aluminium in the construction of both the basic structures and the interior when it was constructed in 1931.
- The first artificial satellite to be put into orbit by the USSR in 1957 made use of two separate aluminium spheres that were fused together to form the hull of the satellite. Ever since, all spacecraft have been constructed using aluminium as a part of the production process.
- Coors first started selling beer in more environmentally friendly and recyclable aluminium cans in 1958, and Coca-Cola and Pepsi followed suit in 1967.