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Aluminum: The 20th Century Metal

Jeffrey Syken

In the 19th Century, the Age of Iron gave way to the Age of Steel by century’s end. By the middle of the 20th Century however, the most glamorous metal was Aluminum. Used in a myriad of applications from airplane wings to tea pots, Aluminum’s versatility, workability and ease/flexibility of finishing made it ideal for multiple applications. Its qualities of light-weight, strength and its conduction qualities made it strategically critical, particularly during WWII.

Made from the most abundant metallic element on earth – Bauxite, paradoxically it must go through a complex mechanical/chemical/heating process to convert the ore to a fine white powder known as Alumina. Heated and then cooled, it is made into the metal we know as Aluminum via ingot molds. Because it requires tremendous electrical energy to produce Aluminum from Bauxite, processing plants are often located near reliable and relatively inexpensive power sources (i.e. Hydroelectric).

Aluminum proved its worth as evidenced by the great volume of military aircraft produced during WWII. After the war, with the post-war boom in consumer goods, Aluminum could be found nearly everywhere – from automobile grilles to TV dinners. Without high-quality, inexpensive Aluminum-based finished products, the consumer-oriented world we live in would simply not be possible.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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