Timeline of aluminium

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This is a timeline of aluminium, attempting to describe historic events related to the discovery, science and industrial development of the metal.

Big picture

Time period Development summary
< 19th century Aluminium has been used for thausands of years before the metal we know today was produced.[1] It is used in the form of ionic salts as early as ancient Greek and Roman times.[2]
19th century Aluminium in its purest form is discovered in the 19th century, with developments in chemistry and the advent of electricity. Aluminium begins to be used in various ways at the turn into the 20th century. This creates an incentive for development in a new range of industries.[1]
20th century By the early 1900's countless businesses and industrialists already recognize the potential of aluminium.[3] In the 1930s and 1940s, aluminium is widely used in the aviation, shipbuilding and automotive industries during that time and starts its progress in civil engineering.[1] Starting in the 1950s, the use of aluminium becomes critical in space exploration and therefore triggers the aerospace industry to become one of the key spheres.[1] In the 1970s, increased production volumes globally and demand for the metal result in aluminium becoming an exchange commodity.[1] In the 1980s, space shuttles are launched with aluminum oxide rocket boosters.[4] Aluminium production grows steadily worldwide and reaches 19 million tons by the beginning of the 1990s, and the role of China starts to become more important with the center of the world's production gradually drifting to its territory.[1]
21th century The crisis of 2008-2009 leads to large-scale closures of smelters belonging virtually to all Western aluminium companies. At the same time, metal production continues to grow throughout the world. Producers in China and the Middle East move in the opposite direction and ramp-up production.[1] World reserves of bauxite, the primary mineral for aluminium production, total 29 billion tons, with Guinea, Australia, Brazil, Vietnam and Jamaica holding over 70% of this figure.[5] Due to its highly recyclable nature which enables to be repurposed over and over again without degrading, about two thirds of aluminium ever produced is still used today.[6]

Visual data

Annual aluminium production, in thausands of tons.

Full timeline

Year Event type Details Country/region
<5000 BC Application People in Iraq already make fine pottery from a clay that consists largely of a compound containing aluminium.[7] Iraq
c.2000 BC Application Egyptians and Babylonians use aluminium compounds in various chemicals and medicines.[7] Egypt, Middle East
79 AD Publication The Natural History by Roman scientist Pliny the Elder tells the story of a first century craftsman presenting a cup made of an unknown metal looking like silver, but too light to be sliver, to Roman Emperor Tiberius.[1] Italy
1750s Scientific development German chemist Andreas Sigismund Marggraf claims to have found a new "earth" called alumina in alum, but is unable to remove a pure metal from alum.[8] In 1754 Maggraf shows that alumina is a peculiar alkaline earth soluble in acids.[9] Germany
1761 Scientific development French chemist Louis-Bernard Guyton de Morveau proposes the name alumine for the base in alum.[10][11][12][13]
1787 Scientific development French chemist Antoine Lavoisier definitely identifies aluminum as the oxide of a still undiscovered metal.[10][14][15] France
1808 Scientific development Aluminium is named after alum, which is called alumen in Latin. This name is given by English chemist Humphry Davy, who discovered that aluminium could be produced by electrolytic reduction from alumina (aluminium oxide), but did not manage to prove the theory in practice.[1][16] United Kingdom
1821 Scientific development French geologist Pierre Berthier, while working in the village of Les Baux-de-Provence, in southern France, discovers the rock bauxite, named for the place of its discovery.[17][18][19][5] France
1825 Scientific development Danish physicist and chemist Hans Christian Oersted is credited with having been the first to prepare metallic aluminum, after heating anhydrous aluminum chloride with potassium amalgam and distilling off the mercury.[10][1][20][16] Denmark
1827 Scientific development German chemist Friedrich Wöhler refines the process discovered by Hans Christian Oersted, who first produced impure aluminium. Wöhler manages to isolate the pure metal from aluminium trichloride via reduction with potassium.[21] The Wöhler process becomes one of the first routes for producing aluminium metal.[1][16]
1845 Scientific development After 18 years of continuous experimentation, Friedrich Wöhler creates small balls of solidified molten aluminium (globules).[1]
1845 Scientific development Friedrich Wöhler establishes the specific gravity, ductility, colour, stability in air, and various other properties of aluminum.[7][22]
1853 Application French chemist Henri Étienne Sainte-Claire Deville and German chemist Robert Bunsen simultaneously and independently develop a technique for extracting pure aluminium by electrolysis.[1][16][16] France, Germany
1855 – 1890 Production 200 tons of metal are produced in that period of 36 years when the chemical method developed by Sainte-Claire Deville is applied.[1] In the same period, the price of aluminium declines from the equivalent of 1200 euros a kilo to 13.[23]
1856 Application The first known items made of aluminium are medals with bas-reliefs of Napoleon III, as well as a baby-rattle for his son Prince Louis Napoleon. Resembling silver, lightweight and expensive, aluminium is considered an elite material at the time.[16] France
1858 Publication The first book about aluminium, titled Aluminium, is published by the Tissier brothers.[16]
1859 Scientific development Hallwachs and Schafarik first synthesize organoaluminium compounds, which would find their industrial applications in the 1960s.[21]
1865 Literature French writer Jules Verne describes man's first voyage to the moon inside a space capsule made of aluminium.[16] France
1867 Exhibition Aluminium wire and foil are presented at an exhibition in Paris. A new alloy –aluminium bronze – is also presented at the exhibition for the first time.[16] France
1883 Scientific development Russian chemist V. A. Tyurin demonstrates a less expensive way to produce pure aluminium, by means of passing an electric current through a molten (melted) mixture of cryolite and sodium chloride (ordinary table salt).[8][24][25]
1885 Production Russian industrialist A. A. Novoveisky founds a smelter in the vicinity of Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. Russia becomes the third country, following France and England, to commence industrial aluminium production.[16] Russia
1886 Scientific development American inventor Charles Martin Hall in Ohio and French scientist Paul Héroult in France, both of them 22 years old at the time, discover and patent almost simultaneously the process in which alumina is dissolved in molten cryolite and decomposed electrolytically. This reduction process, generally known as the Hall-Héroult process, would successfully withstand many attempts to supplant it, and today remains the only method to produce aluminum in commercial quantities.[10]"[1][22][16] United States, France
1886 Production The Cowles Electric Smelting and Aluminum Company supplies aluminium alloy in quantity in the United States and England using smelters like the furnace of Carl Wilhelm Siemens.[26] United States, United Kingdom
1887 Scientific development Austrian chemist Carl Josef Bayer discloses the sodium aluminate process and manages to produce pure aluminium oxide.[21]
1888 Organization German industrialist Emil Rathenau and the Swiss Metallurgical Society sign an agreement establishing the Aluminium Industry Joint Stock Company with the total value of CHF 10 million in Neuhausen.[1] Switzerland
1888 Production Charles Hall and a group of businessmen start the Pittsburgh Reduction Co., and open an aluminium smelter in Kensington, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The smelter relies on the elctrolysis technique for aluminium extraction developed by Hall. The first ingot of aluminium is produced by the electrolytic smelting process that same year.[22][1][16] United States
1889 Technology Austrian chemist Karl Joseph Bayer, working in Saint Petersburg at the Tentelevsky production facility, invents a cheap and feasible alumina (aluminium oxide) production method. Going forward, alumina would became the basic raw material for aluminium production.[1] Russia
1889 Production Héroult's process is used in production in Switzerland at Aluminium Industrie, (now Alcan).[26] Switzerland
1889 Application Aluminium cookware replaces copper and cast iron cookware almost completely. Aluminium pots and pans are lightweight, they heat up and cool down quickly, and are resistant to corrosion.[16]
1891 Application Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel orders the creation of Le Migron, the first passenger boat to use an aluminium hull.[1][16] Switzerland
1893 Application A statue depicting the Ancient Greek deity of Anteros is erected at the Piccadilly Circus in London. Sculpted by Alfred Gilbert, it is considered the first major work made of aluminium.[16] United Kingdom
1894 Application Scottish shipbuilding yard Yarrow & Co creates a 58 metre torpedo boat made of aluminium named Sokol. Sokol is made for the Russian Empire's Navy and accelerates to a speed of 32 knots, a record speed for the time.[1] United Kingdom
1894 Application American rail company Hartford Railroad, then owned by banker John Pierpont Morgan, starts to produce special lightweight passenger railroad cars with aluminium seats.[1][16] United States
1894 Technology Alexander Dick invents the modern hot extrusion process, which is applicable to most non-ferrous alloys. Today, aluminum is the most commonly extruded metal.[27][28][29][30]
1899 Application German engineer Karl Benz presentes the first sports car with an aluminium body at an exhibition in Berlin.[1][16] Germany
1902 Organization The Northern Aluminium Company is founded in Canada, as a division of the Pittsburgh Reduction Company (Alcoa).[16] Canada
1903 Application American aircraft designers Wilbur and Orville Wright fly a controlled aerial vehicle, the Flyer-1, for the first time in human history. They originally tried to use a car engine to propel the aeroplane, but after turned being too heavy,a completely new engine with aluminium parts was developed specially for the Flyer-1. A light, 13-hp motor made allowed the first ever plane to become airborne with Orville Wright at the helm for 12 seconds, flying 36.5 meters.[1][16][3] United States
1907 Technology Swiss industrialist Robert Victor Neher invents the method used for continuous aluminium rolling foil production.[1][16] Switzerland
1907 Organization American company Pittsburgh Reduction Co. changes its name to the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), and remains the sole producer of aluminum in the United States until World War II.[22] United States
1909 Alloy German metallurgist Alfred Wilm patents Duralumin, a key aluminium alloy. Duralumin, with addition of copper, magnesium and manganese is as lightweight as aluminium, but significantly exceedes it in strength, hardness and elasticity meaning it would quickly become the main material used in aviation.[1][31][16] Germany
1910 Application Aluminium is first used in municipal public transport in the production of Parisian buses.[16] France
1910 Application Robert Victor Neher launches the world's first foil rolling mill. A year later Theodor Tobler would start to use foil for chocolate packing, still used to this day. The famous Toblerone bar is wrapped in it.[1][16][3] Switzerland
1910 Production World production of aluminium totals some 6700 tons in the year.[32]
1915 Application German engineer Hugo Junkers develops the hull of the first all-metal plane, the Junkers J1, made from Duralumin.[1][16] Germany
1916 Production World production of aluminium reaches 100,000 tons in the year.[32]
1920 Technology A group of scientists under the leadership of Norwegian engineer Carl Wilhelm Söderberg develop a new aluminium production process that makes the Hall–Héroult process much cheaper. The Söderberg technique considerably reduces the cost of the process, leading to a significant increase in the volume of aluminium in the world.[1][16]
1931 Application The Empire State Building is built in New York City. It is the first building where aluminium is widely employed in construction, both in the basic structures and in the interior.[1][16] United States
1931 Application The first fully aluminium freight railcars are produced in the United States.[16] United States
1932 Production The first industrial production of aluminium by electrolysis is launched in Russia, at the Volkhovsky aluminium smelter, next to the first Volkhovskaya hydroelectric power station.[1] Russia
1934 Application American railway company Union Pacific launches the world's first M-10000 train, made completely of aluminium.[16] United States
1935 Organization The Aluminum Association is founded, with first meeting being held in New York City.[4] United States
1939 Production World production of aluminium reaches almost 700,000 tons.[32]
1943 Production Second World War accelerates the production of aluminium. World production reaches almost 2 million tons.[32]
1948 Application The Land Rover Series I is released, with a fully aluminium body, which reduced the weight of the vehicle and provides resistance to corrosion.[16] United Kingdom
1950 Application Mass production of tank trucks begins, with the use of aluminium alloys.[16]
1952 Application The Headquarters of the United Nations is completed in New York City. It is the first building in the world designed to have translucent facade made of glass and aluminium section.[16] United States
1957 Application The Soviet Union launches the first artificial satellite into orbit. The satellites hull consist of two separate aluminium semi-spheres joined together. All subsequent space vehicles would be produced using aluminium.[1][16] Kazakhstan
1958 Application The aluminium can emerges in the United States. The invention of the can is shared between Kaiser Aluminium and Coors Brewing Company.[1][3] United States
1964 Facility The Krasnoyarsk Aluminium Smelter is launched in the Soviet Union. It would go to become one of the largest aluminium facilities in the world.[16] Russia
1964 Application The Yoyogi National Gymnasium sports complex is built for the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, boasting the world's largest suspension roof, made of sheet aluminium.[16] Japan
1966 Facility The Bratsk aluminium smelters, having the capacity of 1 million tons of metal per year, is commissioned in Siberia. These production facilities remain the largest in the world.[1][16] Russia
1967 Application Coca-Cola and Pepsi start to sell their drinks in aluminium cans.[1] United States
1972 Organization The International Aluminium Institute (IAI) is founded. It engages in the research and development of the global aluminium industry, as well as related questions.[16]
1976 Application Swiss industrial group Alusuisse presents the prototype of a truck, with aluminium being used to construct every detail, including the chassis. Today, all trailers and semitrailers for trucks and freight trucks are made fully of aluminium.[1] Switzerland
1978 Financial The exchange trade for aluminium contracts starts on the London Metal Exchange (LME).[1] United Kingdom
1979 Facility Emirati Dubal Aluminium begins production at the Dubal Aluminium Smelter. The facility would go on to become one of the world's largest aluminium smelters, producing a million tons of metal per year.[1] United Arab Emirates
1983 Production The number of aluminium-producing countries reaches 42.[32]
1990 Production The worldwide production of aluminium reaches 17 million tons.[32]
1990 Facility The first dedicated aluminium can recycling plant in Europe opens in Warrington, Cheshire, England. It is capable to recycle 8 billion cans a year.[33] United Kingdom
1994 Application German manufacturer Audi launches the first A8 model. It is the first mass-market car in the world with a fully aluminium chassis.[1] Germany
1996 Production The global aluminium production exceeds the 20 million tons for the first time. The largest suppliers of the metal are North America, Europe and Russia, accounting for 14% of the total market.[1]
2000 Organization Rusal is established in Russia, as a result of the merger of aluminium and alumina assets of Siberian Aluminium and Milhouse Capital. Rusal is one of the world's largest aluminium producers. Russia
2002 Production China's aluminium production grows past Russia's and exceeds 4.3 million tons. 26 million tons of aluminium are produced worldwide at that time.[1] China
2007 Production China produces 12.5 million tons of aluminium, reaching a third of the global output (38 million tons).[1] China
2007 Organization American industrial corporation Alcoa and Norwegian conglomerate Orkla Group, the parent company of Sapa Group merge and set up a joint venture. As a result, Sapa becomes the world's largest producer of aluminium extrusions.[1] United States, Norway
2008 (July 11) Financial Aluminium prices reach historic maximum during trading on the London Metals Exchange, hitting an all-time high of US$ 3,291.5 per tonne. In just six months, by February 2009, it would fall to US$ 1,253 per tonne.[1] United Kingdom
2008 Crisis Challenges for the world aluminium industry begin during the global financial crisis. The aluminium industry is confronted by an overproduction crisis for the first time in its history as a result of the stock market collapse and as a consequence experience a 50% drop in the price of aluminium. Millions of tons of aluminium accumulate in storage facilities worldwide.[1]
2012 Application Land Rover relseases its SUV Range Rover, which becomes the first SUV with a full aluminium body.[1]
2013 Production Global aluminium production exceeds 50 million tons.[1]
2023 Production According to forecasts, the demand for aluminium will exceed 80 million tons by that year.[1]

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References

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