Aluminum – from high fashion to high flying

From drink cans to space stations, it’s surprising just how flexible (durable, lightweight and convenient) aluminum can be.  Extruded aluminum shapes can be so varied that the metal has been used in a rather surprising number of settings, throughout its relatively short history of use by mankind.
The Emperor’s new cutlery

In the early days of extraction – shortly after the material was identified in 1808 – aluminum was difficult to come by and more costly than gold.  Allegedly, this led the French Emperor Napoleon III to use aluminum cutlery at one banquet – only the most honored guests got this very expensive cutlery.  More run-of the-mill guests had to make do with gold (poor things).  Whether any of the cutlery was mislaid during the meal is a fact that has probably (like many of the knives and forks) been lost to history.

Electrifying moments

By the 1860s, two bright sparks had come up with a method of electrolysis which made the aluminum extraction process far cheaper than ever before.  Charles Martin Hall from the US and Paul Heroult from France both came up with the idea around the same time – although they were not working together.  Presumably, Heroult felt there had to be an easier way to extract aluminum than attempting to hide bits of cutlery down his dinner jacket during Imperial banquets.  Whatever their motivation, the Hall-Heroult process remains the standard method of aluminum extraction today.

Great wars and great developments

There’s nothing like a war to create some technical advances and the Great War of 1914-18 was no exception.  Like so many other things during this period, the demand for aluminum exploded.  This was thanks to armies on both sides realizing that bombing each other from above was a highly effective technique.  The airplane industry took off, got shot down and took off again.  By the end of the war, the insane concept that man could fly was no longer the remit of half-crazed inventors, and aluminum, lightweight and excellent at coping with sudden changes in temperature, played its part.

High ambitions

Further developments in both the car and airplane industries followed; they were speeded up with the arrival of another war and soon man (and woman) was flying higher than ever before.  The ease of molding extruded aluminum shapes and the material’s lightweight qualities has meant that it’s remained a key component not only in planes, trains and automobiles but in the space industry too.  From the humble coke can to important bits of the International Space Station, there are very few places you won’t find it today.

Howard Precision Metals is one of the Midwest’s largest distributors of aluminum.  In addition to Aluminum Plate and extruded aluminum shapes, they stock a huge range of sawing equipment; you won’t find a better aluminum distributor in the area.

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