The Hall Process helped spark the dawn of the aluminum age.

In the mid-1880s, aluminum was a semi-precious metal, scarcer than silver. Total U.S. production in 1884 was 125 pounds.

At Oberlin College in Ohio, Professor Frank Jewett showed his chemistry students a small piece of aluminum and told them that whoever could discover an economical way to make this metal would become rich.

One of those students, Charles Martin Hall, had been experimenting with minerals since he was 12 years old, turning a small woodshed behind his home into a crude laboratory.

After graduation, he continued his woodshed experiments. He learned how to make aluminum oxide—alumina—and he fashioned his own carbon crucible. On a cold February day in 1886, he filled the crucible with a cryolite bath containing alumina and passed an electric current through it.

The result was a congealed mass which he allowed to cool, then shattered with a hammer. And there were several small pellets of pure aluminum.

It was a remarkable discovery. But to carry it forward, Hall would need money. He found his financial backers in nearby Pittsburgh—a group of six industrialists led by Alfred E. Hunt.

These venturers formed the Pittsburgh Reduction Company and built a small plant in what is now Pittsburgh's Strip District. On Thanksgiving Day, 1888, Hall and his first employee, Arthur Vining Davis, produced the first commercial aluminum using Hall's technology.

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Patent no. 400,766

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