Forty years ago a few grains of this metal were prepared by Professor Woehler, at the University of Qoettingen. He sealed the little pellets in a glass tube, and it was not thought that the metal could ever have any useful applications. The discovery rested dormant for thirty years, when attention was called to it by the eminent French chemist, Deville. The circumstances were as follows: The Emperor Napoleon, anxious to display some interest in scientific matters, appropriated fifty thousand francs to defray the expenses of researches into the properties and uses of aluminum, and Henry St. Claire Deville was authorized to make the experiments. We happened to be in Paris when this took place, and were one day invited by Professor Deville to witness the preparation of the metal in the presence of the Minister of War, Professor Dumas, and of other celebrities. Deville, who is the most genial, popular, and successful of the French chemists, received his guests with great cordiality, and explained. in the clearest possible manner, every step of the operation. He extracted a pure, silver-white metal from a lump of clay, The way he did this was very simple. Chlorine gas, was passed over heated clay mixed with charcoal, and the cliloride of aluminum thus produced was driven over melted sodium. The chlorine first extracted the metal from the clay, and was in turn decomposed by the sodium. In chemistry, might makes right and every compound can be attacked and forced to capitulate, if the proper weapons are brought to bear upon it. The aluminum was first seduced from its strong citadel of clay by the chlorine, and was then attacked and captured by the sodium. The experiments, in a small way, having proved successful, extensive works were established in the neighborhood of Paris, where aluminum was manufactured on a large scale. At the Paris exhibition of 1867, Mr. Paul Morin exhibited numerous objects manufactured from pure aluminum and from its alloys. The specific gravity o/ the metal is 267. It is tin white, fusible at a red heat, brilliant, malleable, ductile, sonorous, an excellent conductor of electricity, insoluble in dilute sulphuric acid, and in concentrated nitric acid; easily soluble in hydrochloric acid and the alkalies. It does not decompose water, as was at first supposed, and does not oxidize materially in the air. I Profe3sor Henry Wurtz, of New York, has recently discovered that if it be rubbed with mercury it oxidizes so rapidly as to produce great heat. It was at first found impossible to solder the metal, but this difficulty has been at length overcome. When fused with iron it forms a crystalline mass not malleable. Mixed with copper in the proportions of ten parts of aluminum, and ninety parts of copper, it forms a beautiful alloy, possessed of the color and many of the properties of gold. This alloy is called aluminum bronze, and is now frequently employed for the manufacture of watch cases, watch chains, and imitation jewelry. Nearly all the aluminum now manufactured is converted into the above alloy and the interest in it, which at one time began to flag, is once more revived, and several new establishments have arisen for its manufacture. Four hundred pounds a month are now manufactured in France, and sold at twelve dollars a pound. It is also largely produced in England. Aluminum is one of the most abundant metals on the earth. It is found in brick and porcelain clay, in feldspar, in cryolite, in granite, in slate rocks, in the ruby and sapphire. When iron rusts, it turns to a red powder, which can be washed away. When aluminum rusts, or is fused at a great heat among the crystalline rocks, it gives to us the precious stones called the ruby and sapphire. As soon as the metal is required in largfc quantities, some method will be devised for producing it at a cheap rate; and when that time arrives we shall not have to fit out expeditions to go and search for the ore in remote regions, But we can dig for it under our feet, nearly everywhere, and make a mine of every stone quarry. The beautiful tone of the metal has suggested its use in the manufacture of bells, and a successful application of it for this purpose has been made. Aluminum has been employed by chemists as a reducing agent in the preparation of some of the rare metals, and we may have to record a more extensive use of it for this purpose. There have recently been introduced into use in Paris two new alloys of aluminum. The first is called aluminum silver, or third silver (tiers argent), and is composed of one-third silver and two-thirds aluminum. It is chiefly employed forforks, spoons, and tea service, and is harder than silver and more easily engraved. The second is called minargent, and is made of one hundred parts copper, seventy parts nickel, five parts antimony, and two parts aluminum. It is a very beautiful, permanent, and brilliant alloy, capable of replacing silver for many purposes. It must be acknowledged that the applications of aluminum in the arts are not so numerous as was at first predicted, and its maaufaeture, as compared with other metals, can, at the present time hardly be called a metallurgical one. The metal is so light that a little of it will go a great way. A cubic foot of it weighs one hundred and sixty-eight pounds, whereas a cubic foot of gold weighs twelve hundred pounds, and silver weighs six Hundred and fifty-six pounds, iron four hundred and fifty pounds, and even granite weighs one hundred and eighty-six pounds to the cubic foot. If the price of it were the same as that of silver, it would still be much cheaper, as only one-fifth as much would be required to cover the same space. So abundant is this metal, that it is safe to predict that the day is not far distant when our houses may be built of it instead of bricks, and we shall use it for many purposes now unknown.—New World.
This article was originally published with the title "Aluminum" in Scientific American 20, 11, 167 (March 1869)