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February 23, 2011
Alcoa Celebrates 125 Years of Modern Aluminum
Miracle Metal Continues to Build on Its Sustainable Legacy
NEW YORK--This month marks a milestone in American history that’s known to few but
benefits everyone. Thanks to the birth of the modern aluminum smelting
process 125 years ago by Charles Martin Hall, thousands of products can
be made safer, lighter, more fuel efficient and more recyclable.
Hall was just 22 years old and a student at Oberlin College in Ohio when
he discovered the way to create aluminum by separating it from bauxite
ore through electrolysis. The aluminum pellets created from this
discovery are called “Alcoa’s crown jewels” because it led to the patent
Hall received July 9, 1886, and later the founding of Alcoa.
In celebration of Hall’s remarkable invention, Alcoa, the company
launched by Hall and a group of inspired investors, is initiating a
series of events and activities to recognize Hall’s achievement and the
influence of this miracle metal. This includes a donation of $10,000 to
the college’s Green EDGE Fund, which finances environmental projects on
the Oberlin campus and nearby community.
Alcoa Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer Kevin Anton will
kick off the recognition at a keynote address today at Oberlin College,
which is also commemorating the anniversary with special programs.
“Hall’s process is of course the backbone of our company, but this
singular ‘cracking of the code’ did much more than just build an
American success story,” said Anton. “In the 125 years since his
discovery, the development of aluminum has been nothing short of
ground-breaking – opening up entire markets and industries, from
cookware to electrical conductors, to car frames, to space shuttles and
According to Anton, the innovation that occurred on Feb. 23, 1886, in
Hall’s ‘woodshed’ lab remains today at the core of Alcoa’s DNA.
“We call aluminum the miracle metal not just for one reason – but for
many,” he said. “Its properties are simply amazing: lightweight and
ideal for promoting fuel efficiency in autos; strong enough to withstand
deep ocean drilling and space travel; non-corrosive, making it perfect
for use on the façade of buildings; and, of course, it is infinitely
recyclable. No other material has all of these properties.”
Prior to Hall’s invention, aluminum extraction methods were crude and
costly. It was a metal used rarely and only by those who could afford
it. Thus in the late 1800s, it was used sparingly and as an ornamental
metal, like its placement in 1884 at the top of the Washington Monument.
After Hall’s patented process, aluminum became more available and its
attributes were recognized and sought after—in 1903 the Wright brothers
recognized the lightweight properties of Alcoa aluminum were integral to
their first flying machine. In the years that followed, from the
industrial revolution to today, aluminum has been at the cornerstone of
both the extraordinary and the everyday.
No other metal has aluminum’s sustainability advantage. Nearly 75
percent of the aluminum ever produced is still in use today. When an
aluminum can is recycled, it can be back on the shelf in 60 days. Alcoa
saves 95 percent of the energy it takes to make a can from new metal,
which lowers the carbon footprint of an aluminum can.
The demand for this miracle metal in industries ranging from
transportation and consumer electronics, to packaging and building &
construction has never been brighter. As Anton notes, “Aluminum’s
contributions to the advancement of society are limitless. And the
ingenuity and out-of-the-box thinking and experimentation that were
characteristic of Charles Martin Hall continue to drive our ambitions at
More information about the remarkable history of aluminum can be found
Alcoa (NYSE:AA) is the world’s leading producer of primary and
fabricated aluminum, as well as the world’s largest miner of bauxite and
refiner of alumina. In addition to inventing the modern-day aluminum
industry, Alcoa innovation has been behind major milestones in the
aerospace, automotive, packaging, building and construction, commercial
transportation, consumer electronics and industrial markets over the
past 120 years. Among the solutions Alcoa markets are flat-rolled
products, hard alloy extrusions, and forgings, as well as Alcoa® wheels,
fastening systems, precision and investment castings, and building
systems in addition to its expertise in other light metals such as
titanium and nickel-based super alloys. Sustainability is an integral
part of Alcoa’s operating practices and the product design and
engineering it provides to customers. Alcoa has been a member of the Dow
Jones Sustainability Index for nine consecutive years and approximately
75 percent of all of the aluminum ever produced since 1888 is still in
active use today. Alcoa employs approximately 59,000 people in 31
countries across the world. More information can be found at www.alcoa.com.