ALCOA AND THE U.S. ALUMINUM INDUSTRY
Hayley Chouinard and David I. Rosenbaum
The Aluminum Company of America, often known as Alcoa, largely dominated the American aluminum industry for over five decades. The company enjoyed a brief patent-granted monopoly, followed by a long period of domestic monopoly with limited competition from foreign producers. Eventually, Alcoa faced domestic and foreign competition, but it managed to adapt and remain a leader in the industry. This is the story of the Aluminum Company of America, and its journey from monopoly and dominance to shared oligopoly.
Sir Humphery Davis, an English chemist, discovered aluminum in 1807. During his experiments, he also found the great difficulty involved in releasing aluminum from the other elements to which it bonds. Having no means for separation, aluminum enjoyed only limited and novel applications during most of the 1800s. Napoleon III greatly admired the lightweight and shiny metal, and displayed aluminum utensils and jewelry in his court. He desired to use the light metal to shield his army and for other military uses, but the lack of quantity and the relatively high price of aluminum, $17 a pound in 1859, dampened his enthusiasm. He sponsored research in hopes of discovering a means to mass produce aluminum, but to no avail. Napoleon died before any technology could yield any great quantity of aluminum.
Scientists around the world continued to search for a method to isolate and extract pure aluminum. In 1880, using electrochemistry, some success brought the