The Rise and Fall of Aluminum: From Rarity to Ubiquity

TLDR Once a rare and precious metal, aluminum became abundant and affordable thanks to the Industrial Revolution and the development of extraction techniques. Its lightweight, non-rusting properties made it essential for aviation, space exploration, and everyday items like aluminum foil.

Timestamped Summary

00:00 Aluminum was once the rarest and most expensive metal in the world, but today it is one of the cheapest and most plentiful.
01:35 Aluminum is a very common element on Earth, making up 8.2% of the Earth's crust, but it was extremely rare throughout most of human history.
03:12 For most of human history, aluminum was a rare and unknown metal, until the Industrial Revolution when British chemist Humphrey Davy theorized a way to create aluminum from aluminum oxide using electricity, and it wasn't until 1845 that the first pure aluminum metal was isolated by German chemist Friedrich Voller.
04:42 During the mid-19th century, aluminum was considered more valuable than gold, with French Emperor Napoleon III reserving aluminum plates for himself and honored guests, and the Washington Monument being capped with a pyramid made of aluminum.
06:09 In the 1880s, the development of affordable extraction techniques using electricity and a chemical process led to a large-scale production of aluminum, causing the price to plummet and the number of uses for aluminum to grow.
07:43 Aluminum is attractive for use because it is lightweight, doesn't rust like iron, is a good electrical conductor, and was critical for the growth of aviation, the creation of aluminum foil, and the construction of spacecraft and satellites.
09:11 Aluminum is highly recyclable and its value has dramatically decreased over the years, making it one of the most valuable items in the world in the 19th century.
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