Aluminium is the most abundant metal in the earth’s crust at approximately 12%, but it is only present as an oxide and a rather inert silicate.
In 1760 a French chemist gave this oxide the name alumina and there were numerous attempts over the years to extract the base metal, which was eventually given the name aluminium by Sir Humphrey Davy in about 1808.
In 1854, a French chemist produced the first globules of raw aluminium and noted its low density and high ductility. Emperor Napoleon III wanted this metal for his army and provided funds for research. As a result, in 1855 small bars of aluminium were exhibited at the Paris Exhibition and over the next few years, small amounts of aluminium were produced in England and Germany.
In 1884 the largest ever single casting of aluminium was produced in America. It was a 3 kilo pyramid, which was used to top the Washington Monument.
The breakthrough in aluminium production came with the discovery of the Hall Heroult Process in 1886. By the end of the century, aluminium was in production in London at the rate of 50 tonnes per year, although it was still regarded as a precious metal.
In the first half of the 20th Century, production of aluminium in the UK was mainly based in Scotland using hydroelectric power. In 1900 world production of aluminium was 5,000 tonnes and by 1950 this had risen to 2.5 million tonnes.