Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Aluminum: A Metal with Mettle

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Aluminum: A Metal with Mettle

Article excerpt

Steel isn't just an alloy of iron and carbon; it's the stuff of legend. It's found in tall tales of Joe Magarac, stirring molten iron with his bare hands, and in true tales of millworkers whose hands and hearts built a nation. Today football players test their mettle on the Steelers gridiron.

Aluminum isn't celebrated in folktales or on football jerseys, but like iron it's a key element of regional innovation. Aluminum is the most abundant metal in Earth's crust but doesn't naturally occur as an element. Aluminum readily combines with oxygen. It sometimes crystallizes into rubies, emeralds or sapphires but usually forms a reddish brown rock called bauxite. Pure aluminum was once costly to extract and valued more than gold.

Enter "boy wonder" Charles Martin Hall, who experimented with minerals in his backyard woodshed in Oberlin, Ohio. Inspired by his college chemistry teacher, Mr. Hall extracted pure aluminum cheaply and efficiently in 1886. He was only 22 years old. …

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