Alcoa today kicked off the celebration of the 125th anniversary of the aluminum producer's founding, with Chairman and CEO Klaus Kleinfeld exhorting several hundred Alcoans to carry on the innovative legacy of founders Charles Martin Hall and Alfred Hunt.
"We are standing on the shoulders of giants," Mr. Kleinfeld said during a speech at the company's North Shore offices. "It's our DNA. It's what we should never forget."
The celebration came one day shy of the company's actual birth date. The Pittsburgh Reduction Co. was incorporated on Oct. 1, 1888 after Mr. Hunt and a handful of other steel executives bought the rights to Mr. Hall's patent for a low-cost way to smelt aluminum. Mr. Hall had made the discovery two years earlier.
With $20,000, Mr. Hunt's group built a pilot smelter at 32nd and Smallman streets. The company would not become the Aluminum Company of America until 1907, a name that was later shortened to Alcoa.
The anniversary coincides with what is likely to be a shutdown of the federal government because of the failure of Democrats and Republicans in Congress to compromise on a temporary funding measure. Asked in an interview whether Mr. Hall and Mr. Hunt would have started the company in the face of the Washington gridlock as well as the regulatory and tax burdens companies face today, Mr. Kleinfeld said he is convinced they would have.
"The obstacles at that time were at least as tough as they are today," he said.
Mr. Kleinfeld made his speech before a sea of employees wearing royal blue T-shirts as part of the company's month-long community service initiative. He spent time with Junior Achievement students at the Manchester Academic Charter School on the North Side.
As part of the celebration, the company announced that its foundation will provide $1.25 million for an internship program that will help 500 students in the United States and seven other countries over the next two years. The paid internships will help the students develop skills needed for a career in manufacturing.
Catalyst Connection, a Pittsburgh manufacturing economic development group, received $125,000 of the $1.25 million to run the internship program in the region.
During the ceremony, members of the Hunt family unveiled a new historical marker that will be erected at the site of the Smallman Street plant.