Smelting process is still in use today

by Dean Stone

Essentially the same, less expensive process for smelting aluminum from bauxite co-discovered by Charles Martin Hall in 1886 is in use worldwide today.

The Hall-Héroult process dissolves alumina in molten cryolite, a mineral. An electric current passes through the solution, depositing molten aluminum on the carbon lining of the crucible. This electrolytic reduction process is basically the same used in refining today.

Hall had trouble selling his process. Finally, a friend introduced him to Captain Alfred E. Hunt (for whom Hunt Road is named), a metallurgist and co-owner of the Pittsburgh Testing Laboratory. He persuaded a group of Pittsburgh steel men to join him in pledging $20,000 to form The Pittsburgh Reduction Company on July 31, 1888.

The name was changed to Aluminum Company of America in 1907 because of the confusion over the meaning of the word "reduction." While it means to extract a metal from its oxide, in that day it was also used to describe the rendering of dead animals. Allegedly, a Pittsburgh Reduction official was routed out of bed and soundly berated for not removing a dead horse from a nearby alley. Such incidents hastened the decision to change the name.

When surveying work began in Tennessee, ALCOA was a young company of only 22 years. Three years after the name change to Aluminum Company of America it became known by its acronym ALCOA which was suggested by Lucy M. Rickey, wife of James W. Rickey. She coined the acronym in 1910 when ALCOA President Arthur Vining Davis asked her husband to name a village the company had built in East Tennessee for workers who were constructing a dam. Davis had given Chief Hydraulic Engineer Rickey the job of finding a dam site to produce adequate electricity to build a new smelter in the eastern United States. Thus the present area of Calderwood was originally named Alcoa.

Mrs. Rickey later described her trip from the end of the rail line at Chilhowee as where "we took a mountain wagon which had huge wheels and special axles that could take the mountain roads" driving half a dozen miles to the Howard farm. Pleased with the name of Alcoa which she suggested, President Davis rewarded her with the offer of a second trip to Alcoa, later Calderwood.

The community of Calderwood in southeast Blount County, across the river from Monroe County and not far from the North Carolina state line, was to become the operational base for building the Cheoah, Santeetlah and Calderwood dams over a period of roughly two decades.

Today, the area between Calderwood Dam and the North Carolina state line is known internationally by motorcycle riders who have dubbed it "The Dragon." The 11-mile section of the two-lane road has 318 curves. Originally more of a wagon road, state highway crews widened it to two lanes and surfaced it in the early 1930s.

Calderwood, originally known as Alcoa, had a post office by the name of Alcoa established on Sept. 11, 1912. It was changed to Calderwood March 3, 1920. This was done in order for the new city of Alcoa, founded in 1919, to have a post office by the same name. On April 19, 1920, the Alcoa post office was opened in the present city of Alcoa and is still in operation. The Calderwood post office closed Feb. 28, 1957.Why the name Calderwood? Isaac Glidden Calderwood, hardly known other than as I. G. Calderwood locally, was superintendent of much of the construction of the dams. However, he is best known for building the six miles of railroad track from Chilhowee to Calderwood in six weeks in mid-winter of 1916 after Southern Railway said it would take six months.

The track was later extended to Tapoco, not an Indian name but the North Carolina community named for the ALCOA subsidiary Tallassee Power Company's acronym, Tapoco. Later it was extended along Cheoah River, first for use by Kitchen Lumber Co. in harvesting timber and later to Santeetlah for construction of that dam on the Cheoah River. The Cheoah River runs behind Tapoco Lodge and enters the Little Tennessee just below nearby Cheoah Dam.

Source: Maryville Daily Times